30 Issues In 30 Days: Will NYC Get Rent Reform If Democrats Take The Senate?

05 Oct, 2018

From now until Election Day, The Brian Lehrer Show is hosting a series called “30 Issues in 30 Days.” The idea is to dive deep on one issue a day to give voters a sense of what candidates are saying about the policies that affect their lives. To kick things off this week, Lehrer is focusing on New York issues that may be in play if the State Senate flips to the Democrats, and that have previously been blocked by a Republican majority and the IDC. Up first: Rent Laws.

Since 1993 New York City has lost over 152,000 not-regulated apartments because of changes to laws that have made it easier for landlords to bring their rent-regulated apartments into the open market.

We’ve seen the rent laws gutted every single time they’re up for renewal. More and more units are being lost to the market,” Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, said on The Brian Lehrer Show Monday morning.

But the trend, he hopes, could be about to change.

In 2019, the state’s rent laws will once again be up for renewal. With Cynthia Nixon and her allies out of the picture, tenant advocates like Westin—who supported Nixon and other working Families Party candidates for their tough stance on Big Real Estate- see flipping the State Senate as the last chance to make changes to rent laws that, they say, have long served landlords over tenants.

“I think we’re on the verge of taking back the State Senate with [Senate Democratic Leader] Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and we have a chance of making some major changes,” said Westin. Among those major changes are policies the group has spent years fighting for, like repealing the Urstadt Law, which prevents the city from enacting rent laws more restrictive than those of the state, and ending high-rent vacancy decontrol which allows a landlord to charge market rates once a rent-controlled apartment’s monthly rent threshold rises above $2,733/month.

Also on the agenda is ending vacancy bonuses, which allow a landlord to increase rent of a regulated apartment once it is vacated, thus creating an incentive to push out long-term residents. Another objective of tenant advocates is closing the preferential rent loophole, which allows for sudden and unexpected rent increases to people now paying below the legal maximum.

The prospect of these policies concerns Jack Freund, vice president of The Rent Stabilization Association, a trade group representing landlords. “We’re being threatened by a progressive takeover in Albany and it is not in the best interest of the city,” Freund said Monday, arguing that imposing stronger regulations will not solve New York’s affordability crisis, and proposed the city offer rent subsidies to tenants rather than “tightening the noose” on landlords.

But if Westin, and other tenants rights groups, have their way rent laws would go far beyond “tightening” existing regulation. “When we have a Democratic Senate we need to go further,” Westin said. “We need to fight for things like universal rent control,” a tenants rights platform that includes the rights platform that includes the right to a lease renewal for all renters (not just those in rent-regulated apartments), and protections against untenable rent hikes and harassment. “I think it’s very realistic that major pieces of it are accomplished this session.”

Winners of the Democratic primary earlier this month, especially the six candidates who replaced former IDC members, are particularly gung-ho about upending rent law status quo. IDC challenger Zellnor Myrie, who beat incumbent Jesse Hamilton in the primary, made it a cornerstone of his campaign, and Julia Salazar, the winner of the 18th District Democratic nomination against Martin Dilan, pilloried her competitor for taking big money from the real estate lobby.

Democrat Andrew Gourdanes, challenging Republican Senator Martin Golden in South Brooklyn in a race that has been identified as competitive, fully supports upending the Urstadt law, a measure Republicans, like Golden, are loathe to give up.

The rent laws were Issue #1 on Lehrer’s 30 Issues In 30 Days because unaffordable housing is the #1 issue for so many New Yorkers. Coming up this week, Brian will look at four more New York-specific issues, and game out how they could change if Democrats take control of the State Senate.

By: Zoe Azulay in NEWS on Sep 24,2018 4:18PM

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