After months of fighting for middle class New Yorkers, my colleagues and I in the Assembly Democratic Conference were able to reach an agreement with Senate Republicans that will not only extend rent regulations but expand them. While I am disappointed that tenants did not get every protection they deserve, we must keep in mind that the Senate Republicans have long been in the pocket of the landlords and despite this, we made truly important improvements to the law. These are the first significant victories that we have won for middle class tenants in nearly a decade and a half. They include:
- Raising the Vacancy Decontrol limit from $2,000 to $2,500. Currently, vacancy decontrol allows landlords to remove an apartment from regulation if it is unoccupied and the rent reaches $2,000. Landlords often reach this limit by doing minimal improvements to the apartment. Since there is no check on landlords, there is no way to ensure these improvements have taken place. In the new law, if a landlord claims 10% or more in a rent increase due to improvements made before a tenant moves in, DHCR must certify this work and the tenant retains the ability to challenge the increase. More importantly, the limit for vacancy decontrol has been raised from $2,000 to $2,500. This will allow a new generation of tenants to enjoy the protections of rent regulation.
- Raising the High Income Decontrol limit from $175, 000 to $200,000. Currently, high income decontrol allows a landlord to remove an apartment from regulation if the residents’ combined income is over $175,000 for two consecutive years and the apartment’s rent has reached $2,000. Under the new law, landlords will not be able to deregulate a family’s home unless their income is over $200,000 for two consecutive years and their rent is over $2,500. This is the first increase in the income limits that tenants have seen since 1997, despite well over a decade of inflation.
- This new bill requires New York State Homes and Community Renewal (NYSHCR) to enforce the provisions of rent regulation. For the last 17 years, NYSHCR has been tasked with overseeing rent regulation, but they have not been given the authority to enforce the law and ensure that landlords are abiding by it. The enhanced rent regulation we just passed truly gives NYSHCR the power to enforce the law and this is a huge step forward.
- Reducing the burden of Major Capital Improvements (MCIs). A tenant’s responsibility for an individual apartment’s MCI has been reduced from 1/40th of the cost of the improvement to 1/60th of the cost for larger buildings.
- The Roberts v. Tishman Speyer case still stands despite the Republican Senate’s attempt to overturn the decision. The J-51 tax break allows the State to share the costs of capital improvements and in return preserves affordable housing through rent regulation. The Court held in the Roberts decision that landlords, who have used J-51 tax break, cannot take advantage of the tax break while deregulating apartments at the same time. Landlords were trying to have the best of both worlds by taking taxpayer dollars and then using a loophole to renege on their side of the deal. Keeping the Roberts decision in place ensures that tenants who have been overcharged by unscrupulous landlords will be able to recoup the money that is rightfully theirs.
While this new law is not perfect, at the end of the day, we must remember that New York’s tenants are better off than they have been in over a decade. I want you to know that I will continue to fight for the middle class–rent regulations are an important part of keeping New York City affordable. Despite these gains, I am sure unscrupulous landlords will continue to abuse the system. This is why I hold a free monthly legal clinic for tenants unable to afford an attorney. If you have any questions about these new regulations or if you would like to sign up for my free legal clinic please contact my office at (212) 860-4906.