Suburban Rent Boards Freeze Rents, One-Upping City RGB

Once again, the Rent Guidelines Boards in the three suburban counties have done better by rent-stabilized tenants than their counterpart in New York City did.

In their annual meetings in June, the Nassau, Rockland and Westchester county RGBs all froze rents for both one-year and two-year lease renewals for the guidelines year beginning October 1, instead of the partial rent freeze passed by the city RGB. As with the city board, all hearings and meetings this year were online.

The COVID-19 pandemic hung over all three boards like a shroud. In light of clear evidence of the economic harm the lockdown has had on tenant households, it was hard for the landlord members to argue that it made sense to increase rents. Looking decidedly gloomy, they seemed resigned to what was going to happen.

The Westchester board voted first, on June 23. For the second year in a row, the board had only one tenant member, Tamara Stewart. Despite this, her motion for no increases passed 5-3, with four public members voting yes and the two landlord members and chair Elsa Rubin voting no. An earlier motion by landlord member Eliot Cherson for 2 and 3.5 percent rent increases was rejected by a 6-2 vote.

The Rockland RGB meeting on June 25 was surreal. One of the two landlord seats is vacant, and two public members did not show up. With only six members present, when the board voted 4-2 in favor of a motion by tenant member Alejandra Silva-Exias for a 5 percent rent rollback, it fell one vote short of the five needed to pass. (The two tenant members and two public members voted yes, while chair Patricia Caldwell and landlord member Jain Jacob voted no.)

A motion for no increases then passed 6-0, with even Jacob supporting it. This is the fifth consecutive year that the Rockland RGB has adopted a complete rent freeze.

Nassau’s RGB voted last, on June 29. The case for a freeze was so compelling that the board cut to the chase, eliminating the customary preliminary motions by the opposing sides. Immediately after presentations by landlord members Andrew Cohen and Barry Stein and tenant members Robert Rychlowski and Cathryn Harris-Marchesi, public member Garrett Gray made a motion for no increases, which passed 6-2, with the landlords in the negative. Chair Mike Miller did not vote, as the Nassau RGB chair traditionally votes only to break a tie.

Unlike the New York City board, the suburban RGBs do not have their own staff. Instead, they depend on the state housing agency’s Office of Rent Administration staff for everything, whether logistics or data analysis. The three boards have each developed their own particular methods and habits over the 46 years they have been in existence.

Dennis Hanratty is executive director of Mount Vernon United Tenants.