RGB Votes 3.75%, 7.25% Rent Increases

We’ll be clobbered,” longtime tenant activist Michael McKee predicted before the Rent Guidelines Board vote June 27. The public members appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he said, “might as well be landlord members.”

The RGB proved him right. True to form, the board’s five public members voted as a bloc to allow increases of 3.75 percent for a one-year lease renewal and 7.25 percent for two years, applying to apartments and lofts as of Oct. 1. Last year’s increases were 2.25 percent and 4.5 percent.

RGB chair Jonathan Kimmel said that “subsidies are available” for tenants who can’t afford the increases. As usual, it passed with no debate, as protesters in the crowd angrily chanted “no más aumentos” (no more increases).

Tenant representative Brian Cheigh asked the public members to give reasons why they thought the increases were necessary. Public member Betty Phillips Adams responded that she objected to being told what to do.

The board also voted 6-3 to allow 3 percent increases for single-room-occupancy hotels, as long as at least 85 percent of the rooms in the hotel are occupied by long-term tenants.

“This is economic terrorism,” said Jesse Duperon, an East Village resident who works as a research assistant with 9/11 first responders. “They’re drowning New Yorkers. We stayed to rebuild the city after 9/11, and this is how we’re being repaid.”
The final vote came after the tenant representatives had proposed a rent freeze and a succession of gradually larger increases, all of which were rejected in lockstep 7-2 votes. They drew boos and chants of “too high” when the increases they proposed reached 3 and 5.75 percent.

“We needed to try to secure the lowest increases possible,” tenant representative Adriene Holder explained. “This board is not willing to consider strengthening provisos.”

She also pointed out that in 2008, the RGB had voted increases of 4.5 percent and 8.5 percent, with minimums of $45 and $85 a month for long-term tenants, based on a projection that landlords’ costs would rise by 7.3 percent in the next year. In reality, she said, they only went up 0.1 percent. The board “cannot mechanically adopt another increase… without acknowledging this error,” she said.

At the preliminary vote in May, Holder and Cheigh had proposed several provisos that would have limited rent increases, including banning them in buildings where most of the apartments are deregulated. The only one they introduced at the final vote would have barred increases in buildings where major housing-code violations had not been corrected in time. When buildings are not being maintained, Holder said, the board needs “to make sure we’re not unjustifiably rewarding those landlords.”

This actually got a response from Adams and public member Ronald Scheinberg, who both said it needed more study, and voted against it. Landlord representative Steven Schleider counterproposed that owners should get a 3 percent bonus increase for buildings with no outstanding violations.

Schleider drew the most irate response from the more than 200 tenants in attendance when he said that people could afford rent increases because the city has gained 90,000 private-sector jobs. A cacophony of chants—”That’s not right!” “Liar!” “Shame on you”—drowned out the rest of his speech. He concluded by saying that tenants “should pay their fair share of the burden.” The board rejected his proposal for $60 and $100 minimum increases, 7-2.

“Every year it’s the same,” said Rafael Sencion of the Congreso Nacional Dominicano and a board member of the Met Council Research & Education Fund. “I think the tenant members would do us a big service if they step down, because they are justifying a mockery.”

“It was predictable,” City Councilmember Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) said after the vote. “The public members are landlord members. They voted down several reasonable proposals. The public members don’t care about tenants. It’s a sham.”

Instead of the RGB members being appointed and dismissed by the mayor, he said, the City Council should be able to decide who’s on the board. But the Council, he added, cannot claim that power as long as New York City does not have home rule over its rent laws. If the Council enacted such a bill, he said, the Urstadt law “would ban it.”