Tenants Brave Snow to March for Stronger Rent Laws

On the evening of Nov. 15, hundreds of tenants braved fast-falling snow and rivers of slush in Lower Manhattan to demand that the state Legislature enact stronger tenant-protection laws when Democrats take control in the coming session.

The march, organized by Housing Justice for All, a coalition including the Upstate/Downstate Housing Alliance and the Real Rent Reform campaign, began with a rally at Bowling Green. Nova Lucero of the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, a former Met Council organizer, led chants of “Si se puede” and “La renta sube sube, el pueblo sufre sufre,” to the beat of drumming on orange plastic buckets. It ended at the offices of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord lobbying group, at 123 William St.

“Elected officials need to know that we want them to fight for us, for our voices to be heard, and for universal rent control for all of New York State, from Buffalo to Long Island,” Winsome Pendergrast of East New York, a member of New York Communities for Change, told Tenant/Inquilino.

The march’s newest demand was statewide “universal rent control”: Removing the geographic restrictions in the Emergency Tenant Protection Act to allow areas outside New York City and the inner-suburban counties of Westchester, Nassau, Rockland to enact rent-stabilization laws, and passing laws prohibiting the eviction of tenants in smaller buildings (less than six units) and trailer parks without “good cause.” Others were for measures previously introduced in the Legislature: To make “preferential rent” discounts last for the duration of the tenancy; repeal the 20 percent bonus increase allowed on vacant apartments; make rent increases for major-capital and individual-apartment improvements temporary; limit increases on rent-controlled apartments to those permitted for rent-stabilized units; and end the deregulation of vacant apartments when their rent gets high enough. 

The preferential-rent “fight is very personal” for Michael Bailey of Bedford-Stuyvesant. His family lost the home they owned in the 2008 subprime mortgage debacle, and he said he was evicted from his apartment when his lease expired and the preferential rent was raised from $1,000 a month to $1,350. Winsome Pendergrast was forced out for similar reasons two months ago: In 2010, she was paying $1,200 a month for an apartment in Flatbush, but this year, between MCIs and her preferential rent expiring with her lease, her landlord raised it to $2,150. 

“We’re fighting every vacancy/eviction bonus, MCIs, preferential rents,” said Nilda Rivera of Woodside on the Move in Queens. “Tenants’ pockets are depleted. Landlords are getting too many incentives. Incentives are gifts to the landlords. It’s not just for my rights, but about the rights for all tenants who cannot come out and make it here tonight.” 

“It is time for a change,” said Raymond Vaughn of Brooklyn, who marched with Neighbors Together from Ocean Hill- Brownsville. “I’m tired of being told I can’t live in certain buildings because I can’t afford it. Housing has to be made affordable for everybody.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo “are deliberately avoiding the housing issue,” charged Harold Alexis, Jr. of VOCAL-NY. He was evicted from his late mother’s apartment in the Bronx five years ago because he was unable to pay the $945 rent by himself after she died, moved from shelter to shelter, and now lives in a hotel in the Gowanus section of B r o o k l y n that’s used to house the homeless. “I hope a bill is signed to end homelessness by having money for homes rather than t h ro w i n g money away on shelters,” he added. 

O n t h e m a r c h through the f i n a n c i a l canyons of lower Manhattan, tenants chanted “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Universal Rent Control,” “Governor Cuomo, you can’t hide, we know you’re on the landlord side,” and more. When it reached the RSA offices at 123 William St., a small group went upstairs and attached a mock city marshal’s eviction notice to the door, from the “People’s Court NYC” in the case of Tenants of New York v. The RSA. 

“Marshal’s Notice,” it read. “The Tenants of NYC are taking back possession of their homes — For more information go to housingjustice4all. org… Every tenant in New York, no matter where they live, deserves the same basic protections.” 

“The rent is too high not because of natural causes but because of landlords, Wall Street, our own legislators,” said Jon Golbe of Brooklyn’s Prospect Heights, a member of Democratic Socialists of America. “There is a difference between small landlords who occupy the building and big corporations,” he continued, but “our state legislature should know that taking money from the Real Estate Board of New York is on par with taking money from the National Rifle Association. Let people know what the RSA is — corporate landlords united to remove rent protections.”