New York City: Renewed Call for Rent Freezes

New York City
New York City’s rent-stabilized apartment dwellers are facing possible rent increases in 2015, which has many residents clamoring for a renewed call for rent freezes. If passed, the rent increases could reach as much as 3.5 percent on two-year leases. According to the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), there is also a possible vote in the works for a rent freeze on one-year leases as well. The vote that occurred on Wednesday, April 29 was the first by the board, which was appointed entirely by first-term New York City (NYC) Mayor Bill de Blasio, who last year called for rent freezes for the nearly one million rent-regulated apartments in New York City. Alas, de Blasio did not get the measure passed.

The NYC RGB rejected a proposal to recommend that rents be reduced by as much as four percent for the city’s one million rent-stabilized apartments next year. The measure failed by a 7-2 vote. Instead, the board voted 5-4 to recommend allowing rent increases of up to 3.5 percent over the next two years, with a one-year rent freeze possible.

When the board reconvenes this June, the nine-member panel will have a final vote to consider a zero to two percent rent increase for one-year rent-stabilized leases in New York City. Meanwhile, two-year leases could rise as much as 0.5 percent to 3.5 percent. However, the rent numbers could increase or decrease after public hearings. The purpose of the board is to represent the interests of both tenants and landlords.

As New York City apartment dwellers renewed their call for rent freezes, Mayor de Blasio has yet to speak publicly regarding the issue. However, sources say the NYC mayor is intent on retaining affordable housing and has begun lobbying the New York State Legislature to reinforce rent laws up for renewal this summer to reduce the number of stabilized units taken out of regulation by landlords.

The April vote by the RGB was indicative of the panel leaning towards a small increase when it votes on the final guidelines for next year on June 24. The guidelines will cover leases renewed on or after October 1. If this prediction comes to fruition, the rent freeze Mayor de Blasio promised while running for NYC mayor in 2013 would be preempted. This defeat could place the already embattled elected official in a precarious position.

As New York City residents renewed their call for rent freezes, advocates for tenants had lobbied for a rent decrease in response to years of landlord overcompensation. They justified their position on the previous NYC mayoral administrations and actions by the RGB. Case in point, when Michael Bloomberg was mayor, the board had granted several increases far beyond what was needed to keep landlords in the black. In fact, according to last year’s figures, the expected increase of owners’ costs, which is its index to predict prices for running a building, increased by only 0.5 percent, which is the lowest projected figure in 10 years.

With the rent freeze Mayor de Blasio promised while running for NYC mayor in 2013 in peril, the New York City nine-member panel will have a final vote to consider rent increases for one and two-year rent-stabilized leases in New York City. De Blasio won the election with the votes from New Yorkers who were frustrated and irate that “the rent is too damn high.” However, his efforts to negotiate rent freezes have fallen short and he is facing the wrath of the city’s power elite. Moreover, the mayor’s plans to build 80,000 new units of “affordable” housing depend on the real-estate industry building enough luxury apartments for NYC to subsidize the lower-cost units.

By Leigh Haugh

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