Politicians Want New Limits on Hikes for Rent-Controlled Apartments


State Rep. Linda Rosenthal speaking next to State Sen. Brian Benjamin. Photo by Michael McDowell.

By Michael McDowell

Verdi Square, at Broadway and 72nd Street, played host to a rally on Wednesday morning, in support of new legislation introduced by local elected officials to protect rent-controlled tenants from what advocates say are unfair rent increases. The legislation, A167A/S299A, would also prohibit fuel pass-along charges, an additional fee rent-controlled tenants are subject to, which fluctuates in accordance with fuel prices.

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and State Senator Brian Benjamin, who sponsor the legislation in the State Assembly and Senate, respectively, stood with a crowd of rent-controlled tenants and advocates, including representatives of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance and Chair of Community Board 7 Roberta Semer.

“In the 1970s, New York had more than 600,000 units of rent-controlled housing. Today, there are under 22,000 left, because of unrelenting and unmitigated landlord harassment, coupled with unjustifiably high rent increases,” said Rosenthal.

Many New Yorkers believe rent control to be some sort of “golden ticket,” but that simply isn’t the reality, said Sen. Benjamin.

“The vast majority of rent-controlled tenants are seniors who live on very low and very fixed incomes. As of 2017, the median income for rent controlled tenants was $28,000,” Rosenthal said.

“This is about fundamental fairness, fairness to our seniors who have worked so hard, who have played by the rules, who deserve to retire with dignity and respect, and not to be price-gouged every step of the way,” Benjamin said.

Under the current system, rent-controlled tenants can see rents rise as much as 7.5 percent annually.

“When your rent goes up 7.5 percent, but Social Security doesn’t, how are you expected to stay in your apartment? Where are you expected to go? How can you afford to live in the city that you helped build?” she asked. “It’s not fair that rent-controlled tenants have been left behind in the crusade for fairer rent laws, but that stops now.”

The new legislation would rid rent control of the Maximum Base Rent formula, and link increases in rent for rent-controlled tenants to the rent stabilization program, with a cap on percentage increases on par with recent Rent Guidelines Board adjustments for 1-year stabilization renewal leases.

“Rent-stabilized tenants, whose rent increases are calculated annually at the Rent Guidelines Board…have had increases in the past few years of 0 percent, maybe 2 percent. That is all much less than 7.5 percent,” Rosenthal said.

One rally attendee could scarcely be seen behind a podium set up for the event. So she stepped to the side, held onto a microphone, and stared directly into the cameras.

“I’m a rent-controlled tenant. I live in a building of seventy apartments. I am the only rent-controlled tenant,” said the woman, Norma Schreier.

“And they harass her,” a man in the crowd muttered, shaking his head.

“I qualify for [Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption],” Schreier said. SCRIE is an exemption designed to keep eligible seniors in their apartments; landlords receive a property tax abatement credit of the same amount as a rent increase a tenant is exempted from paying.

“Under SCRIE, my monthly rent is $2,425.39. If I did not have SCRIE, my monthly rent would be $2,913.31, plus a fuel charge, of $110.51 per month. There is no way I could afford that. Most rent-controlled tenants are seniors who live on Social Security, as I do.”

“We need relief. We need help,” a man nodded.

A major battle over rent regulation is currently underway in Albany, and other proposed bills include legislation that would repeal vacancy decontrol, as well as close loopholes that have enabled landlords to hike rents, and, critically, which would expand legal protections to millions more renters.

Additional tools are newly available to Upper West Siders who wish to further explore rent control, rent stabilization, and other forms of subsidized and affordable housing in the neighborhood. Fund for the City of New York Urban Fellow Liran Tzuman completed an affordable housing data project for Community Board 7 this month, as part of the Board’s effort to address the affordability issue in the neighborhood.

Some Upper West Siders may be unaware of the status of their apartment; meaning, gentle reader, that there is a not insignificant chance you currently live in a rent-stabilized unit.

The first step to determining whether or not your apartment is rent-stabilized is to request your rent history from New York State Homes and Community Renewal (NYSHCR). To do this, simply send your name and address to rentinfo@nyshcr.org, and ask for your apartment’s rent history, which should then arrive in the mail. Rent history may also be obtained in person, at an NYSHCR office, or by calling (718) 739-6400.

Once you receive your rent history, if you believe you have been overcharged, it may be prudent to first consult a tenant advocacy organization or attorney. This disclaimer aside, NYSCHR outlines the complaint process here, which could result in a reduction in your rent, as well as a payment from your landlord.

The original version of this article has been replaced by a more comprehensive one.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 27 comments | permalink
    1. Peter says:

      “unfair rent increases” — Can someone define what an unfair rent increase is?

      “unrelenting and unmitigated landlord harassment” — If that is the case and that is a crime, then why have these landlords not been put in jail or fined?

      “unjustifiably high rent increases” — Who did God give the divine right to decide what is justifiable or not? Are the rent increases illegal?

      “This is about fundamental fairness” — Fundamental fairness to who? Certainly not to landlords or people who have worked hard to earn money that they later invest in real estate. Certainly not fair to those who pay market rate rents that will likely pay more to offset the others.

      “When your rent goes up 7.5 percent, but Social Security doesn’t, how are you expected to stay in your apartment” — Would there not be any sense in looking at why social security benefits do not go up 7.5%? If landlords are asked to lower rents should the government not be asked to increase benefits?

      “There is no way I could afford that.” — Perhaps the idea of not being able to afford something should be considered. I can’t afford $50,000 a year tuition at a private school in NYC. So I go with other options. If you can’t afford to live in one of the most expensive areas in the world, then maybe you should consider other areas to live in. There are plenty of them!

      • Swims Against the Tide says:

        O.M.G. !!!
        Someone on this site who is :
        1. NOT a trendy-socialist ala A.O.C. or Bernie;
        2. NOT anti-capitalism;
        3. NOT a “pot-in-every-chicken” / “pie-in-the-sky progressive !!

        THANK YOU, Peter, for bringing carefully-reasoned arguments to this issue.

    2. UWS Joe says:

      “We need relief. We need help,”

      Don’t we all need relief and help? Do my pregnant wife and I not also have needs? Don’t we also deserve lower rent? Especially because we both work in healthcare taking care of the elderly population here. Shouldn’t my rent be decreased because I will have a child soon?

      “My monthly rent is $2,425.39…”

      Ok. My rent is $3400 for a modest one bedroom.

      Why should my family carry the burden because someone else has CHOSEN to continue to live in one of the most expensive places on the planet?

      It isn’t your right to stay here or anywhere. You are making my family pay for you. You are hurting me and my family.

      When will we get our giveaways?

      Oh, we won’t because like so many young families we will be forced to leave NYC because we can’t simply subsidize everyone’s life here.

    3. Dave O. says:

      Recommend that everyone get their rent history, it is no cost to do so, your landlord is unaware of you doing so, and you will have the information. Then you can decide whether or not to take action, like file for a rent overcharge or not.

      • B.B. says:

        While often touted as some sort of catchall savior, rent histories are not always some sort of magic bullet.

        Plenty of people file for that paperwork only to find their current rent is proper and correct. Yes, there are the outliers of various LL abuses, but they are the exception and not rule.

        Main issues with these “rent burdened” seniors, elderly and even middle-aged persons come down to several factors.

        First and foremost renting is just that; you have no direct control over your housing expenses other than to move. Yes, NYS and NYC give renters vastly more protections than elsewhere (almost to the point of being equal to owning), but problems remain.

        That comes in what happens when household income is not sufficient to cover rent, and or consumed in large part by that expense.

        Large part of many Americans retirement savings comes in the form of homeownership. That is people are counting upon the sale of their home to fund some part of their retirement. Renters obviously do not have that advantage.

        If you examine the finances of many “older” New Yorkers living in RS/RC units you find the same things; they have some sort of pension (maybe), small savings (ditto), and Social Security. The less fortunate just have SS alone. Either way for many those fixed income amounts just that; so something has to give.

        Piled onto all this is the increase in life expectancy for all Americans. New Yorkers like everyone else are living longer. So even those that did have savings are seeing those funds depleted via time. That and or they have to spend carefully in order to make what they’ve got last longer.

    4. Tony says:

      I wish our politicians would worry as much about the property tax increases that I have seen over the last few years. But I guess I’m rich, or at least before I pay the mortgage, the condo maintenance and the property taxes, at which point I have very little left.

      • B.B. says:

        City hasn’t raised property taxes since the last increase by Bloomberg.

        What has happened is that assessed value for co-ops, condos, and private homes has continuously increased over past few years. The red hot NYC real estate market with people paying huge sums for homes, and or apartments going for high rents raises value of comparable homes in area. So even if the city doesn’t raise property taxes rates, the “house still wins” in that since your home is worth more that increase in assessed value means higher taxes.

        Co-ops and condos in NYC (for some bizarre reason)are taxed as rental properties. Thus when value of rental housing in area increases it affects condos and co-ops.

        For years when large parts of the UWS and other parts of Manhattan had cheap RS/RC housing everywhere, many co-ops and condos had artificially low taxes because they were being assessed on rental housing in area. Now that rents are up, and or thanks to all the new luxury rental housing, values are up so condo and co-op owners/shareholders are paying more.

        As have mentioned in other postings, this is one main reason why so many get angry at new luxury development (rental) in their street/area. A building full of rental housing going for huge sums per month will affect rental housing assessed values.

        • dannyboy says:

          THE RARE FACT-BASED COMMENT HERE.

          “For years when large parts of the UWS and other parts of Manhattan had cheap RS/RC housing everywhere, many co-ops and condos had artificially low taxes because they were being assessed on rental housing in area. Now that rents are up, and or thanks to all the new luxury rental housing, values are up so condo and co-op owners/shareholders are paying more.

          “As have mentioned in other postings, this is one main reason why so many get angry at new luxury development (rental) in their street/area. A building full of rental housing going for huge sums per month will affect rental housing assessed values.”

    5. William Raudenbush says:

      Way to go Linda and long-time advocate Tom Syracuse! Believe it or not, some rent controlled apartments are north of $4,000. Economic diversity is the special sauce that makes neighborhoods feel like neighborhoods. Without robust protections for the middle class, there will be no neighborhoods in NYC, just sterile blocks of Pied-a-terre apartments and tumbleweed rolling down streets with little to no retail occupants.

      • John Smith says:

        One man’s ‘economic diversity’ is another man’s taxpayer subsidzed cheap rent.

        No one is entitled to a lifetime of cheap rent in luxury housing on the taxpayer’s dime. And that is EXACTLY what property tax abatements to landlords amount to.

        Retirees downsize their housing all the time, when maintenance, upkeep, utilities and taxes outstrip retirement income. I have seen this in my own family firsthand.

        There is zero rational reason for subsidized renters to continue to evade rent increases, and it is pure demegoguery for slippery politicians to continue selling that Trumpian lie.

    6. Sarah says:

      We lived in a building on UWS paying $4,500 for a 2B/2B apt that many neighbors paid no more than $1,200 for. I left my children in day care to work/pay the rent, while most of these parents were home with their kids, doing nothing (some with one working parent). On weekends, they pulled up in their nice cars and drove to their country houses – we could afford neither. Eventually we realized we could not afford to live in NYC and had to move.These able bodied neighbors thought it was all very hilarious that they could game the system, and had all sorts of ways that they hid their earnings to avoid the income cap.
      Rent stabilization and rent control apts. should go to the elderly, disabled, and those who legitimately cannot afford it and who have lived in the city their entire lives and have no other options, not those with lux cars and country houses. ONLY these people are “entitled.” WE were not entitled and had to move.

      • Sherman says:

        There are many wealthy people living in rent-controlled apartments. I happen to know some very wealthy individuals who were handed down these apartments from their parents and grandparents. In fact, some of the people I know illegally keep these apartments as pied-a-terres.

        This leads to distortions in the housing market and causes everyone else to pay artificially bloated housing costs.

        It’s an urban myth that everyone in a rent-regulated apartment is a poor and elderly or a struggling worker valiantly trying to live in the city.

        Yes, it’s an extremely unfair and inefficient system but you have to realize that these entitled people are voting in full force for any politician who promises to uphold this corrupt and absurd system.

        That is why Linda Rosenthal is out protesting for stronger enforcement of rent control.

      • B.B. says:

        Your post illustrates what many already know, and that includes NYS and NYC elected officials. RC and RS as “affordable housing” is a crock.

        Other than whatever investigations a LL does as part of tenant screening (which are not required by law), and or the “affordable housing lottery” process there is not any sort of affordability test to get into a RS/RC apartment.

        One in tenants can and often do have incomes and assets that vastly exceed their rent. This includes second or even third homes they are largely allowed to afford because rent on their primary residence is comparatively low.

        Then OTOH elected officials go on about the “rent burdened”; those RC/RS tenants who are paying one-third of more of their monthly income to rent. Well if RS/RC apartments were “affordable” that wouldn’t be happening now would it?

        Truth of the matter is RS/RC rewards longevity. Those that manage to get into such units, and even better with low rents (compared to market) are rewarded. Those who cannot or did not get such apartments are out of luck.

    7. B.B. says:

      Linda Rosenthal, State Senator Brian Benjamin and rest of democrats in Albany think they are so smart. Obviously they’ve forgotten recent history in what happened before various reforms were introduced to RS laws.

      In particular back in the 1980’s when there was a huge boom in co-op conversions as landlords sought one of the few ways to get out from under RS system.

      Then you had fact from about 1972 (when RS was reintroduced) well into the 1980’s or 1990’s when reforms were introduced LLs simply didn’t put money into their buildings. Landlords did just what was required by law, no more.

      Then consider if state makes things too difficult for smaller LLs to keep their RS buildings they will simply sell. Then you’ll have even more rental housing owned by the same real estate royal families. That and or international or whatever investors.

    8. B.B. says:

      What WSR article, politicians and or others involved in rally failed to mention is the main reason for RC units gradually diminishing; simply time did what it was supposed to do.

      Rent control laws first enacted by federal government during WWII, then taken over by state/local governments post war were meant to deal with an emergency situation. Once war was over gradually various other states/local governments phased out rent control. As noted NYS did not for various reasons.

      Things would have sunset for RC by the late 1960’s but (thanks in large part to rent control) no one was building new units; so rents began to rise. In response NYS created the RS system, but left in place RC for certain tenants (mostly those living in apartments before 1971 or 1947 in some cases). Anything built after that was RS which was supposed to be rent control “light”; that is more favorable to LLs and thus entice people to build rental housing.

      By default anyone living in a RC unit (unless they inherited via successor rights) is at least in their 60’s. They are the youngest, large numbers simply have just died. No new RC apartments exist, only what was up before 1971 (or continuously occupied since 1947) qualify.

      When a RC unit becomes vacant it is either converted to RS or goes market rate. That in a nutshell is why so few RC units remain.

      SCRIE was created to give financial assistance to “low income” seniors in RC or RS housing. That being said there are limits to expecting private landlords or anyone else to subsidize rents for those who cannot otherwise afford.

      Larger question is why NYS and NYC aren’t or haven’t created enough low income senior housing. There isn’t nearly enough such housing and those on wait lists often will die before their names are called.

      https://www1.nyc.gov/site/rentguidelinesboard/resources/rent-control.page

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rent_control_in_New_York#Qualification

    9. Karen says:

      Why not make Section 8 housing benefits available to needy seniors, instead?

      https://www1.nyc.gov/site/nycha/section-8/about-section-8.page

      • B.B. says:

        Many LLs for various reasons do not like Section 8 or any other voucher program. You can search internet for reasons, but suffice to say it is a huge issue. City has recently begun fining LLs who outright refuse to accept those with vouchers which is against NYC/NYS laws.

        Then there is the fact waiting list for Section 8 and other vouchers is long, very long. So long (and in part thanks to federal budget cuts) the list is often closed to new applicants.

    10. Susan says:

      We also need some form of rent stabilization for small commercial spaces. Not only are the apartments disappearing, but the small store that was such an iconic and important part of NYC is rapidly disappearing. We’re becoming a strip mall for big chain drug stores, banks and Starbucks.

      • B.B. says:

        NYS/NYC had commercial rent control as part of original “emergency” laws from 1945-1963. The law expired and few in Albany wanted to fight real estate lobby any longer(who hated the laws and kept hauling state into court in efforts to overturn), so that was that.

        It was also beginning to become apparent that while RC was great for tenants, property owners weren’t investing in their buildings, nor was the private sector building much new (and badly needed) multifamily housing.

    11. Susan says:

      From the comments so far, I see a lot of anger from market rate tenants about the benefits they think are unfairly given to RS and RC tenants. What they fail to state is that most of us who have these apartments DO live on very modest incomes that are a result of MUCH lower salaries than current New Yorkers earn. Most of us made less than $50,000/year at our peak earning years, and thus, our Social Security is a pittance. Many of us live on Social Security alone and have lived in these apartments since we were young. The people who have moved to NYC and are now complaining about those of us who have been here most or all of our lives often make obscenely high salaries. Your new condos or apartments have modern amenities, bathrooms that work, decent windows, etc etc. RC/RS apartments are often in poor condition because landlords don’t spend a penny they don’t have to. Furthermore, your new apartments often benefit from tax abatements that are giveaways to the real estate industry. Moving when you’re elderly isn’t as easy and not as affordable as when you’re young. Many of you feel entitled to eat out often, order in your meals because you’re tired after a day’s work, etc. And there are more than a few luxury handbags costing $400 and more toting work files and Hamptons Jitney riders to their summer getaways. The older RC/RS tenants consider those luxuries that are rarely available. We don’t complain that your lives include many more entitlements than our older generations had. Why do you think there are few old people in the restaurants, even at lunch?

      Everybody can make arguments as to why life isn’t fair. There are RC/RS people who are gaming the system, for sure. But there are more than a few young working people who make huge salaries who are gaming the system in multiple ways too. The suggestion that elderly people should be given Section 8 housing is ridiculous. Would you want your mother or father to move into these awful places? Have you even seen one from the inside? They’re frightening. And there are far too few for the low-income population of families.

      Your lives are pretty darn good so please stop complaining. Wait until you’re retired and become invisible and unnecessary. People will want to shove you out of sight and out of the way too. God help you if a financial collapse or some other life disaster wipes you out when you’re too old to rebuild. And you’re too old to get a job.

      • Christine E says:

        Section 8 housing is not a “place.” It’s a voucher system for market rate housing, whereby the lower-income tenant pays part of the market rate rent, and the Section 8 voucher makes up the rest.

        Depending on age, income, and other factors, one can be eligible for Section 8, SCRIE, and other programs. These help lower income people afford housing, while allowing landlords to adjust rents to keep up with actual expenses (like property tax hikes that greatly exceed the rent controlled/stabilized increases).

        • dannyboy says:

          I take it that you agree with everything else that Susan wrote, as your differences are merely linguistic.

    12. B.B. says:

      Mrs. Rosenthal et al are oddly misinformed about historical increases for RS units as voted by RGB.

      Oct. 1, 1986 to Sept. 30, 1987: 1-year: 6%, 2-year: 9%, 1987 inflation: 3.66%

      1987 to 1988, 3%, 6.5%, 1988 inflation: 4.08%

      1988 to 1989: 6%, 9%, 1989 inflation: 4.83%

      1989 to 1990: 5.5%, 9%, 1990 inflation: 5.39%

      1990 to 1991: 4.5%, 7%, 1991 inflation: 4.25%

      1991 to 1992: 4%, 6.5%, 1992 inflation: 3.03%

      1992 to 1993: 3%, 5%, 1993 inflation: 2.96%

      1993 to 1994: 3%, 5%, 1994 inflation: 2.61%

      1994 to 1995: 2%, 4%, 1995 inflation: 2.81%

      1995 to 1996: 2%, 4%, 1996 inflation: 2.93%

      1996 to 1997: 5%, 7%, 1997 inflation: 2.34%

      1997 to 1998: (probably 2%), 4%, 1998 inflation: 1.55%

      1998 to 1999: 2%, 4%, 1999 inflation: 2.19%

      1999 to 2000: 2%, 4%, 2000 inflation: 3.38%

      2000 to 2001: 4%, 6%, 2001 inflation: 2.83%

      2001 to 2002: 4%, 6%, 2002 inflation: 1.59%

      2002 to 2003: 2%, 4%, 2003 inflation: 2.27%

      2003 to 2004: 4.5%, 7.5%, 2004 inflation: 2.68%

      2004 to 2005: 3.5%, 6.5%, 2005 inflation: 3.39%

      2005 to 2006: 2.75%, 5.5%, 2006 inflation: 3.24%

      2006 to 2007: 4.25%, 7.25%, 2007 inflation: 2.85%

      2007 to 2008: 3%, 5.75%, 2008 inflation: 3.85%

      2008 to 2009: 4.5% ($45 minimum increase), 8.5% ($85 min.), 2009 inflation: -0.34%

      2009 to 2010: 3% ($30 min.), 6% ($60 min.), 2010 inflation: 1.64%

      2010 to 2011: 2.25%, 4.5%, 2011 inflation: 3.16%

      2011 to 2012: 3.75%, 7.25%, 2012 inflation: 1.7%

      2012 to 2013: 2% ($20 min.), 4% ($40 min.), 2013 inflation: Not Available

      2013 to 2014: 4%, 7.75%, 2014 inflation: 1.5%

      2014 to 2015: 1%, 2.75%, 2015 inflation: 0.1%

      2015 to 2016: ZERO%, 2%, 2016 inflation: 1.3%

      2016 to 2017: ZERO%, 2%, 2017 inflation: 2.1%

      2017 to 2018: 1.25%, 2%, 2018 inflation: Not available yet

      2018 to 2019: 1.5%, 2.5%, 2019 inflation: Not available yet

      As you can see from above there have been some very steep increases not just in the 1990’s but 1980’s as well. It only is because the mayor leaned upon his handpicked members of rent guideline board that we have seen two years of freezes and then low increases.

      It also happened that the mayor came into office while the nation and city were in a recession that morphed into a near total collapse of entire national and international banking/fiscal systems.

      Costs and inflation were low which gave RGB some wiggle room to advance their policies and prop up BdeB’s liberal/progressive agenda. Those times have ended.

      Taxes, wages, fuel, inflation and other costs are going up.

      Mrs. Rosenthal’s plan wouldn’t turn RC units into RS, but rather more like low income housing that happens to be under RC.

      Already in various new “80/20” housing you have low income RS units that are *very* below market rate, and their increases are capped at 5%.

      Those protesters on SCRIE already have their rent frozen. Their landlords receive tax credits to offset loss of any rent increase.

    13. dannyboy says:

      Kick Seniors out of their homes and place them in Section 8?

      Shame

      • Peter says:

        Why are you so greedy to focus only and exclusively on seniors?

        How about hard working parents who can’t afford rent – should we not give them a rent decrease?

        How about folks with disabilities who may not be able to work to earn a living? Should there not be some type of rent control for them?

        Single parents who can’t work and take care of their children – should they not get a rent break of some kind?

        Or people who have been let go and can’t find a job. Why not grant them a 1-2 year rent freeze?

        Young couples starting out who are making low wages and who struggle to live in NYC would also seem equally worthy as seniors.

        And, widows who no longer may have income from their spouse. Why should they pay market rate rents?

        I would even suggest families who adopt children, or animals.

    14. Tom Siracuse says:

      “Univeresal Rent Control” that would affect the entire state sounds good but the NYS Urstadt Law prohibits NYC from reforming its rent regultions and this law must be repealed since the overwelming majority of rent regulated tenants live in NYC. Vacancy decontrol must also be terminated because it is easy for landlords to put vacated regulated aprtments on to market rate leases. Rent Controlled tenants. who are mostly elderly and whose average annual incomes are less than $28,000, over the years have been subjected to twice the level of rent increases compared to Rent Stabilized tenants. In addition, many on the rent freeze program (SCRIE) pay more than 50% of their income in rent since SCRIE is not retroactive to 1/3rd of their income. The Committee To Protect Rent Controlled Tenants calls for a moratorium on rent increases for all regulated tenants until a new system of rent increases is estabished that these tenants can afford.