May 15, 2018

Assembly Passes Legislation to Protect Tenants
And Strengthen Rent Regulations

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Housing Chair Steven Cymbrowitz today announced passage of a package of legislation to protect tenants and strengthen rent regulations in New York State.

"Working families are the fabric of our communities and have long been the foundation upon which our state is built. But for too long, rising rents and stagnant wages have been driving families out of the neighborhoods they shaped," Speaker Heastie said. "The Assembly Majority is dedicated to making sure that our State remains a great place to live, work and raise a family. These bills will help ensure that families are not priced or forced out of that."

"With rents increasing, leaving wages behind, New Yorkers are finding it harder to remain in their homes and communities," Assemblymember Cymbrowitz said. "I am proud of the legislation we passed here this week to strengthen protections for renters and help keep affordable housing available in New York."

Landlords of rent regulated units currently have the authority to offer a preferential rent which is lower than the legal regulated rent. However, they also retain the right to adjust the rent charge up to the legal maximum upon lease renewal, leaving some tenants scrambling to cover the astronomical increase and pricing others out entirely. One bill included in today's package would put an end to this practice. Enacting this change will provide the opportunity for landlords and tenants to work off the same clear and fair lease (A.6285, Cymbrowitz).

Other bills passed today would also help with the loss of rent-regulated properties, which has magnified the crisis facing working families and middle class residents struggling to find affordable housing. One bill, introduced by Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, would prohibit landlords from collecting a 20 percent increase in rent upon turnover. A lease would still be subject to other rent increases allowed for building and apartment improvements, and Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) increases (A.9815). Another, introduced by Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (A.0433), it would repeal statutes that remove units from rent regulation when they become vacant and could be rented for $2,733 a month or more. Together, these measures will help restore the integrity of the rent regulation system and protect the state's dwindling supply of affordable housing.

Two additional bills would address increases in rent in response to improvements to properties. The first would establish a regulatory framework for the approval of rent increases to rent regulated property as a result of major capital improvements (A.08886-A, O'Donnell). The other bill would also reform the process by which landlords may charge a tenant for costs incurred for an individual apartment improvement (A.1628, Mosley). The Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) would determine reasonable costs for repairs and require landlords to provide proof of repair costs.

Another bill in this week's package would create parity between the maximum rent increases eligible for rent controlled and for rent stabilized apartments by capping rent increases for rent controlled units at a level equal to the average of the previous five RGB rent increases for one-year rent stabilized renewal leases (A.00268, Rosenthal L). Currently, rent increases for rent stabilized apartments are set by the RGB using a formula that takes into account a wide range of economic factors. In contrast, rent controlled tenants are subject to a steep rent increase calculated using an abstruse formula often creating rent increases higher than average increases for rent stabilized apartments.

Under current law, a tenant may challenge a rent increase up to four years after the installation. This package includes legislation that allows for orders issued outside the four-year period of complaint be complied with and included in rental history where the order remained in effect during the statutory four-year period (A.4003, Rosenthal L). Another bill, introduced by Assemblymember Alfred E. Taylor, would protect tenants against rent overcharges by allowing a court or DHCR to consider any year when a landlord did not timely file an annual rent registration statement when they are determining the legal regulated rent (A.9816).

Also included in the package is legislation to protect renters from the actions of unscrupulous landlords seeking to force a rent regulated tenant out of their housing by creating or maintaining the housing in a condition that endangers safety or interferes with or disturbs the comfort, repose, or peace and quiet of the tenant (A.7992-A, Lentol). Included, too, is a provision that requires residential landlords to mitigate damages to a tenant in cases where the tenant vacated the premises, ensuring that if a tenant has to break a lease, only actual damages are recoverable (A.6967, Zebrowski).

"It's time for the state to strengthen the law against landlords who purposely impose vile and highly offensive living conditions on tenants for the sole purpose of forcing people to leave their rent regulated homes," Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol said. "The Assembly's tenant protection legislation includes my bill to crack down on these despicable landlord tactics that often involve the demolition or outright destruction of living space that unnecessarily puts at risk the health and wellbeing of tenants who want to remain in an apartment that they can afford."

"The Assembly addresses the longtime and deliberate abuse of the provision known as Major Capital Improvements or the MCI, which unscrupulous landlords have exploited to impose exorbitant rents on tenants with limited or very low incomes," Assemblymember Danny O'Donnell said. "Too often landlords use the MCI as way to illegally require tenants to incur additional costs to pay for routine property maintenance and repairs. These long overdue MCI reforms will define very clearly the appropriate and legal use of the MCI in order to protect tenants and ensure the availability of quality housing that is safe and affordable."

"As rents continue to outpace income each year, too many hard working New York families find themselves struggling to find housing they can afford, while also putting food on the table and paying for other necessities, like utilities, clothing and medicine, to name a few," Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal said. "We must do more to help ensure that people of all incomes and economic backgrounds have an affordable place to live in the city they love and helped build, and we must update the housing laws to ensure they reflect our values as a State and to protect tenants and communities against the predatory practices of unscrupulous landlords looking to make a quick buck at the expense of our affordable housing."

"This bill will finally bring fairness to landlord-tenant disputes," Assemblymember Zebrowski said. "Currently, tenants are helpless as to whether the landlord seeks to re-rent the property in a timely and reasonable fashion. By requiring landlords to show good faith and mitigate damages, tenants will be able to resolve lease disputes in an equitable manner."

"Updating and improving housing is an important part of ensuring that New Yorkers have safe, quality housing," Assemblymember Walter Mosley said. "But there are those that use improvements to increase rent to the point of deregulation. This bill will help ensure that rent increases due to improvements are done in more transparent way, and that landlords are no longer able to raise rents arbitrarily or deregulate an apartment after making improvements."

"New York City's housing crisis has been severely magnified by the hundreds of thousands of rent-regulated apartments that have been lost to deregulation," Assemblymember Victor Pichardo said. "We must fight for working families to preserve the existing affordable housing stock in New York City, and repealing the statutory vacancy bonus provision is an important step in that direction."

"Securing affordable housing in New York City can be a daunting task, and too often tenants have the least access to information that would support or justify their rent," Assemblymember Al Taylor said. "That is why every tenant should have access to the documentation used to support their legal regulated rent before signing a lease."