Jacobin: "Tenants Won This Round"

"Listing everything included in the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 could take a while.... 

Rather than recount every provision, here are some of the highlights."

  • "Rent regulation is now a permanent feature of New York’s housing law, rather than one that expires periodically and needs to be renewed. In the past the New York tenant movement has generally fought against moves to make the law permanent because it was so flawed, and each renewal would prompt another opportunity to mobilize for their improvement; with rent regulations now significantly expanded, this laws’ indefinite tenure is generally seen as a major achievement for tenants.
  • Rent stabilized apartments will no longer be eligible for deregulation simply because they cross a certain rental rate upon vacancy. Of equal importance, the law also removes what tenants called the “eviction bonus,” or an up to 20 percent increase every time an apartment turned over. When combined, the eviction bonus and vacancy decontrol created a strong incentive for landlords to churn through tenants and exit the regulatory scheme; this opportunity for landlords is now foreclosed.
  • The law also makes it more difficult for apartments to exit rent stabilization through three other means: “owner occupancy,” conversions, and nonprofit use. In the past, landlords have been able to claim — often fraudulently — multiple apartments within a building for their own or their family’s use, and in so doing remove them from rent stabilization; the new law limits this practice to one apartment per building. Rent stabilized rental buildings used to be eligible for conversion into condos or coops if just 15 percent of tenants bought in; now that percentage has been raised to 51 percent, and additional protections have been added for rent stabilized, senior, or disabled tenants who remain in buildings that undergo a coop or condo conversion. Building owners who offered apartments to homeless people used to be allowed to take those units out of the rent stabilization system; the new law closes this nonprofit loophole, providing additional security to formerly homeless tenants and keeping those units in the regulatory system.
  • For the past sixteen years, in places where legally permissible rents for rent stabilized apartments had outpaced market rates, landlords could opt to charge tenants a lower “preferential rent.” Upon lease renewal, however, the landlord could raise rents all the way up to the maximum legal rent, thus forcing tenants to move. Roughly a quarter of rent stabilized tenants — me included — fell into this category, which made our tenancy and rent protections highly precarious. The new rent laws make the “preferential rent” permanent as long as the tenant remains in the apartment, thus providing a great deal more stability to hundreds of thousands of renters.
  • In the past, due in large part to pro-landlord amendments to the rent laws, tenants have had to pay a permanent and painful rent increase for work done on their building or apartments — known as Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) and Individual Apartment Improvements (IAIs). Sometimes these were important upgrades, but other times they were pointless schemes to raise rents. In either case, tenants paid too much, and for too long. The new law lowers the percentage landlords can raise rents, and puts a thirty-year cap on these payments.
  • New York’s rent regulations include two types of apartments: rent stabilized (the vast majority, almost one million apartments) and rent controlled (a small minority, approximately twenty-two thousand apartments). The arcane formula for rent controlled apartments’ rent increases permitted rent hikes far higher than those for rent stabilized tenants; meanwhile, almost all rent controlled residents are seniors living on fixed incomes. The new laws ensure that these tenants no longer see rent increases higher than their rent stabilized neighbors, and are spared the onerous “fuel pass-along” that they alone had to endure.

While the previous reforms have impacted tenants in rent stabilized and rent controlled apartments — a significant group, given that they make up roughly half of New York City’s private rental market — others affect all tenants across the state.

  • The bill takes on the “tenant blacklist,” a list of names of tenants who have been to housing court either as defendants or plaintiffs, which landlords and brokers have used to discriminate against tenants with any kind of court record. It is now illegal for court systems or their contractors to sell such data, or for landlords to refuse tenancy after consulting such records.
  • Landlords can no longer charge more than one month’s rent as a security deposit, and new measures have been added to help tenants get their deposits back after leaving an apartment.
  • Unlawful eviction is now a crime, and new protections have been added to prevent landlords from “retaliatory evictions,” or evictions based on tenants’ complaints or organizing. Tenants now have additional time to find a lawyer, fix conditions that violate their lease, or raise money to pay owed rents, and courts now have more opportunities to stay evictions.

Perhaps most important of all, the new laws expand regulatory rent protections to a new group of tenants and an expanded geography.

  • Tenants living in mobile/manufactured homes — a growing area of speculation for predatory investors, who are buying up parks and lots and raising tenants’ rents and fees — have a slew of new protections, including limits on rent increases and new anti-eviction protections."

Click here to read Samuel Stein's full article. 

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