Saturday, January 26, 2019

Summary of Tenant Meeting with Ellen Davidson - Jan. 24, 2019

We began with a moment of silence for Ada Marie Wattley and Jacob Brockington.
Photo by Jodi Brockington (c) 2019

Thanks to members of the board and executive committee who have served us long and well but decided not to run this year :  Na'ava Ades, who was  on our legal committee, executive committee, and board for many years; Maria Acevedo, who was our treasurer, a floor captain, and then a board member for decades; Debbie Gonzalez, who is continuing as a fund-raiser and pot luck planner; and Wassie Ayalew, who was a member of our board. 

Congratulations to our new board and executive committee members!  Click here to see the names. 

There is more on building issues below. 

What we can expect from Albany

Photo by Jodi Brockington, (c) 2019
Ellen Davidson spoke. As a Legal Aid Staff Attorney and as a board member of Tenants and Neighbors, she has recently been in several meetings with leading State Senators and Assembly Members concerning tenant bills.  These include applying rent laws statewide and to all tenants, and closing loopholes that give landlords an incentive and a means to oust rent regulated tenants.  Tenants and tenants organizations both upstate and downstate are united in the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, with a single Housing Justice for All platform.

Because the Governor has presented his budget and has until March 31st to get it passed,  tenant advocates want to wait until early April to get these bills moving. (The bills have no financial consequences for the state and don't belong in the budget.) The rent laws expire on June 14, 2019, and will be renewed.  Ellen is cautiously optimistic about the bills described below since the Democrats have a big majority (39 to 24) in the Senate and in the Assembly. (No party has had such a big majority in the Senate since 1948.)  

Ellen urged tenants to go up to Albany on one of the Tuesday buses.  With every possible lobbying group on other issues going up every week, we have to make our voices heard!  Contact Andrea Shapiro at to sign up.  

Here is the platform: 

Include all of NYS geographically in rent laws. 

Current rent stabilization law (the Emergency Tenant Protection Act) only applies to NYC, Nassau, Rockland, and Westchester Counties.  Other areas are not even allowed to opt in. That has to change - especially for cities like Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, and even Albany itself whose residents are struggling under high rents. In the past, some legislators have gotten away with opposing rent regulation because it only applies to downstate NY, and they risked nothing.  If it applies statewide, upstate politicians are more on the line themselves.  Sen. Breslin (Albany area) and AM Cahill (Hudson Valley) are carrying this bill. 

Protect ALL tenants

Current rent stabilization law covers tenants in pre-1974 buildings of 6 or more units.  It doesn't cover those in smaller buildings, newer buildings, manufactured homes (trailer parks), nor does it cover market rate tenants.   All those residents need protection too.  The bill would give those tenants two protections:
"Good cause eviction" - that is, the right to a renewal lease unless they give the landlord "good cause"  not to (such as being a nuisance, renting out the apartment, not actually living there, not paying rent). This means they could complain of poor conditions without fearing they will be kicked out.
Rent increases tracking the rate of inflation. If an increase exceeds that (right now it's about 1.5%), the landlord would have to justify the amount or it wouldn't be granted. That is similar to a "hardship" increase allowed to landlords of rent stabilized tenants.
The one exception to these protections: buildings of 3 units or fewer where the landlord lives on the premises. 

Repeal Vacancy Deregulation and Re-Regulate Some Apartments

The current law is that a vacant apartment may be taken out of rent regulation if its rent is at least $2773.25. (That amount goes up by the same percentage as the Rent Guideline for 1-year lease renewals goes up.) The new bill would bar landlords from de-regulating rent stabilized apartments that become vacant, regardless of the rent.  More importantly, apartments that have been de-regulated that way and whose current rents in NYC are less than $5,000/month (or outside NYC less than $3,500/month) would be re-regulated. AM Linda Rosenthal (Upper West Side) is the sponsor in the Assembly.  Traditionally, Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been the Senate sponsor, but as the new Majority Leader, she may decide to pass this responsibility to someone else. 

Repeal the Vacancy Bonus

Right now, a landlord gets to increase the rent 20% just because an apartment is vacant. Tom Waters of the Community Service Society found that 48% of rent increases in NYC come from vacancy bonuses.  That's a big motivator for landlords to push rent stabilized tenants out: if they do it five times, the rent has doubled and the landlord didn't even have to slap on a coat of paint.  The new bill would end vacancy bonuses altogether.  Sen. Serrano and AM Pichardo, both of the Bronx, are the sponsors. 

End Major Capital Improvement (MCI) increases

Landlords currently get a permanent rent increase when they do a major capital improvement such as faƧade and balcony repair, roof replacement, elevator repairs, etc.  The new bill would end those increases.  Sen. Gianaris and AM Barnwell, both of Queens, are the sponsors. 

End Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) increases

In an occupied apartment: If a tenant requests and the landlord installs an improvement such as a new stove or refrigerator in an individual apartment and the tenant signs a sheet agreeing, the rent is increased permanently by 1/60th (in smaller buildings 1/40th) the cost of the improvement.

In a vacant apartment:  No one has to agree or sign anything.  The landlord improves the apartment and the rent goes up permanently.  Landlords have used this to great effect to raise the rent of vacant apartments:  Only the new tenant who moves in can challenge the improvement, and that's hard if they have no idea what was there before or how much the improvement actually cost. 

The new bill would end these increases.  It is sponsored by Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh.  

Make Preferential Rents the base rent for that tenancy

Landlords sometimes rent out stabilized apartments for less than the legal regulated rent (LRR). With any lease renewal, the landlord is entitled to increase the rent according to the Rent Guidelines Board's order based on the LRR rather than the preferential rent.  This is a great bait-and-switch tactic that can get a tenant out. For example, Tenant A can't afford the LRR of $2000, but can pay the preferential pay of $1500.  But when the lease is renewed, the landlord raises the rent to $2000 + whatever the Rent Guideline is for that year.  The tenant still can't pay that amount and is forced to move.  The landlord gets a vacancy (and the 20% vacancy bonus!) and goes out to find a new tenant. Sen. Liz Krueger (East Side) and Assembly Housing Committee Chair Cymbrowitz are the sponsors. 

Limit Rent Controlled Rents  
Rent controlled tenants live in apartments built before 1947.  There are about 22,000 such apartments and most of the residents have been in their apartments since 1971. They face annual rent increases of 7.5% - much steeper than most rent stabilized tenants face.  The new bill would limit their increases to an average of the previous 5 years' Rent Guidelines Board 1-year lease renewal increases.  Senator Benjamin (our state senator) and AM Linda Rosenthal (UWS) are the co-sponsors. 

Building issues:
Balcony demolition will continue as weather permits at the contractor's discretion. Balcony repair is only possible once the night-time temperatures reach 40 degrees.  That means tenants whose balconies are now being worked on will be left with destroyed balconies and furniture in their living rooms until Spring.

If you have furniture to donate, go to this website

If you still have mice, put your name down on the list for the exterminator!