Council Votes to Renew City Rent Laws

The City Council voted 47-2 on March 11 to renew the city’s rent-control and rent-stabilization laws until 2018.

The vote followed a March 2 hearing by the Housing and Buildings Committee. Under the law, the Council had to  find a continuing housing emergency, defined as a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent, based on the Housing and Vacancy Survey (HVS) conducted every three years by the US Census for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development. This year’s HVS found the vacancy rate to be 3.45 percent.

The Council did not have to look long or hard to “find” an emergency. New York’s housing crisis continues to spiral out of control. The HVS found that rents rose much faster than wages in the last three years, and that lower-income tenants were particularly hard hit. Despite bona fide efforts by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, such as enhanced eviction-prevention programs, the number of homeless people has increased 10 percent in the year since the mayor took office. A recent Community Service Society study found that hundreds of thousands of low-income households are paying 70 percent or more of their income for rent.

Because the HVS found the vacancy rate well below 5 percent, renewal of the city rent laws was a foregone conclusion. But speaker after speaker, both Councilmembers and witnesses, made the case that simply renewing the laws as is will only ensure the continued erosion of the city’s affordable housing. Vacancy deregulation, Met Council program director Ilana Maier testified, creates “a significant financial incentive for landlords to push families out of their homes. This can occur in a variety of ways, which regularly depend on systemic negligence and harassment. Increasingly, this harassment is coming in dangerous forms, such as the use of building-wide construction as intimidation. Vacancy deregulation has disastrous consequences for both tenants and communities, and we cannot accept any rent laws that stop short of full repeal.” 

The Council also approved resolutions calling for repeal of the 20 percent statutory vacancy increase, ending abuse of “preferential rents,” making increases for improvements a temporary surcharge that ends when the cost is recouped, protecting rent-controlled tenants from annual 7.5 percent increases, and ending the deregulation of vacant apartments which reach a rent of $2,500 a month.

“It’s undeniable that our city is currently in a housing crisis,” said committee chair Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) said in a statement. “We must enact stronger tenant protections. Strengthening our rent laws is the only option I consider a win in Albany, because simply renewing them would be a major loss for all tenants. It’s my hope that after today’s hearing, our state legislators hear the Council’s recommendations loud and clear, and will further develop a plan that not only complements the Mayor’s plan [to create new affordable housing], but gives immediate relief to our poor and working-class citizens who need it most.”

Mayor de Blasio will hold a bill-signing hearing later this month.