Tenant Breakthrough in New York State on Rent Control

Katy Murphy – Bay Area News Group

New Orleans        For tenant activists and organizers around the country and the world, rent control, real rent control, often seems like gold at the end of the rainbow, almost a mirage, certainly unattainable, and perhaps not worth the struggle.  New York City has long been a beacon for tenants trying to win such protections, even if the light from those policies has been flickering and rising rents have made the divide between landlords and tenants unbridgeable.  Overcoming fierce opposition by landlord lobbyists and decades of erosion of protection in the one-million rent-regulated apartments in New York City and a loss of tens of thousands of affordable housing units, a coalition of tenant advocates and organizations, Housing Justice for All, managed to win a historic agreement that would strengthen rather than weaken the rules.  This is huge!

Here are key elements of the final agreement worth noting:

  • Rent control would be expanded statewide offering cities and towns the ability to create their own rent control policies.
  • So-called “vacancy decontrol” would be abolished.This provision had allowed landlords to take units out of rent protections after rents passed a specified benchmark.  The New York Times noted that 155,000 units had been lost in the last 30 years due to this provision.
  • The so-called “vacancy bonus” would be abolished.This provision had enabled landlords to skyrocket the rents by 20% whenever a tenant vacated a rent-controlled unit.
  • Provisions were strengthened to provide tools to tenants to fight reno-raises, as I would call them, which are increases imposed by landlords when they renovate units or make improvements in the building, some of which were little more than cosmetic, but allowed rents to be gentrified, a problem we see around the world.
  • Rent discounts called “preferential rents” would be made permanent preventing huge bumps when a rent control tenant renews a lease.

I understand we’re in the weeds here, but watching what happens to the real estate market for tenants in New York in the next couple of years will be critically important.  If it works, as we believe it should, and it expands to cities and towns from Buffalo to Syracuse to wherever in New York State, it may serve even more successfully as a model for tenant victories in the future where the special, sui generis nature of the big Apple itself has been a barrier in the debate, even as it has been a beacon of hope.

The fight is not over.  Eviction protections for tenants in market rate units not under rent control did not improve which is a disappointment.  As Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, the former New York ACORN, was quoted in the Times, “…this is a huge win for the tenant movement that will impact the lives of millions of renters … but we also feel we have a long way to go.”

Amen, and many of us will be trying to follow your lead!

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