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Landmark Deal Reached on Rent Protections for Tenants in N.Y. Landmark Deal Reached on Rent Protections for Tenants in N.Y.
(about 2 hours later)
Newly empowered Democratic leaders in Albany announced a landmark agreement on Tuesday to strengthen New York’s rent laws and tenant protections, seeking to address concern about housing costs that is helping drive the debate over inequality across the nation.Newly empowered Democratic leaders in Albany announced a landmark agreement on Tuesday to strengthen New York’s rent laws and tenant protections, seeking to address concern about housing costs that is helping drive the debate over inequality across the nation.
The changes would abolish a rule that allows building owners to deregulate apartments, close a series of loopholes that allow them to raise rents and allow certain tenant protections to expand statewide, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations. The changes would abolish a rule that lets building owners deregulate apartments, close a series of loopholes that permit them to raise rents and allow some tenant protections to expand statewide, according to three officials with knowledge of the negotiations.
The deal was a significant blow to the real estate industry, which had long been one of the most powerful lobbies in Albany but had suffered a loss of influence after its Republican allies surrendered control of the State Senate in the November elections. The deal was a significant blow to the real estate industry, which said the measures would lead to the deterioration of the condition of New York City’s housing. The industry had long been one of the most powerful lobbies in Albany, but had suffered a loss of influence after its Republican allies surrendered control of the State Senate in the November elections.
“We have reached an agreement,” the State Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, announced. “We are finalizing this legislation and we will be issuing a joint statement with additional details when it is complete.” The State Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said in a statement that she and Carl E. Heastie, the speaker of the Assembly, had struck a “historic affordable housing legislation agreement.”
They added that they were finalizing the details of the legislation, which both chambers would vote on later this week.
The current rent regulations expire on June 15. The raft of new and strengthened rules would mark a turning point for the 2.4 million people who live in nearly one million rent-regulated apartments in New York City after a decades-long erosion of protections and the loss of tens of thousands of regulated apartments.The current rent regulations expire on June 15. The raft of new and strengthened rules would mark a turning point for the 2.4 million people who live in nearly one million rent-regulated apartments in New York City after a decades-long erosion of protections and the loss of tens of thousands of regulated apartments.
The legislation being finalized in Albany is far-reaching: While rent regulations are currently restricted largely to New York City and a few other localities, the new package would allow cities and towns statewide to fashion their own regulations, which are meant to keep apartments affordable by limiting rent increases.The legislation being finalized in Albany is far-reaching: While rent regulations are currently restricted largely to New York City and a few other localities, the new package would allow cities and towns statewide to fashion their own regulations, which are meant to keep apartments affordable by limiting rent increases.
It would also make the changes permanent — a major victory for tenant activists who historically have had to lobby Albany every few years when the old laws expired. It would also make the changes permanent — a major victory for tenant activists who have had to lobby Albany every few years when the old laws expired.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, said he would sign whatever package of rent bills the Legislature passed.
The imminent changes come as New York and other major cities are grappling with a shortage of affordable housing, prompting even Democratic presidential hopefuls to increasingly court renters as a new voting bloc.
New York has seen record numbers in homelessness statewide and skyrocketing rents that have acutely burdened low-income and older residents.
“The Senate and the Assembly are taking a massive step in the right direction,” said Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition of tenants.
“We have a long way to go to reach a point where every tenant in New York is protected, but this is a big step forward to correct decades of injustice between tenants and landlords,” she added.
Real estate trade groups called the proposed legislation an existential threat to building owners. In hearings and through expensive ad campaigns, the groups warned that the changes could put small landlords out of business because they would be unable to increase rents to deal with escalating costs.
“This legislation fails to address the city’s housing crisis and will lead to disinvestment in the city’s private sector rental stock consigning hundreds of thousands of rent-regulated tenants to living in buildings that are likely to fall into disrepair,” the Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, a coalition of the real estate groups, said in a statement.
“This legislation will not create a single new affordable housing unit, improve the vacancy rate or improve enforcement against the few dishonest landlords who tend to dominate the headlines,” the statement added. “It is now up to the governor to reject this deal in favor of responsible rent reform that protects tenants, property owners, building contractors and our communities.”
The agreement on Tuesday underscored the rising power of the progressive wing in Albany. Many of the lawmakers who fueled the Democratic takeover of the State Senate last year pledged to decline contributions from real estate interests and ran on promises to take on the industry by passing legislation supported by tenant groups.
Landlords and developers, accustomed to ready access to Albany insiders, were shut out of meetings and vilified at rallies.
Tempers and tensions had continued to rise as the June 15 deadline approached. Last week, hundreds of activists flooded the State Capitol, staging a rowdy demonstration and leading to dozens of arrests.
Anxiety over the looming deadline, and fighting among some Democrats, seemed to heighten the intensity surrounding the rent negotiations.
On Tuesday, lawmakers and staff members huddled into the evening as they hashed out the final details on the legislation. Left uncertain was the involvement of Mr. Cuomo, an outsized figure in any negotiations in the capital, who won a third term in November.
Tenant activists had urged the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly to shut out Mr. Cuomo, who has received millions of dollars in real estate campaign contributions, and though legislative leaders did not explicitly agree, Tuesday’s package was the product of two-way negotiations, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Mr. Cuomo, at a news conference before the deal was announced, had dismissed the idea that he needed to be involved.
“There is no negotiation. I will sign the best bill they can pass,” he said.
Encouraged by the Democratic takeover, a statewide coalition of tenants had been pressuring lawmakers for months to pass nine bills collectively known as “universal rent control.”
The deal reached on Tuesday included several of those proposals or modified versions of them.
Lawmakers agreed to abolish so-called vacancy decontrol, a provision that allows landlords to lift apartments out of regulation when their rents pass a certain threshold. The rule has led to the deregulation of more than 155,000 units since it was enacted in the 1990s.
Legislators agreed to repeal the so-called vacancy bonus, which allows landlords to raise rents by up to 20 percent whenever a tenant moves out of a rent-stabilized apartment.
They also agreed to rein in provisions that allow landlords to raise the rents of rent-regulated apartments when they renovate units or fix up buildings — perhaps the most hotly debated proposal of the package.
Housing advocates have long argued that building owners routinely abuse those provisions, inflating construction costs to jack up rents and push out tenants.
But Mr. Cuomo, and even Mayor Bill de Blasio, said they supported revising, not repealing the provisions, because they provide incentives for landlords to keep buildings in livable conditions. The real estate industry has argued the same.
Changes would make permanent discounts on rents known as “preferential rents,” preventing landlords from sharply increasing those rents when a regulated tenant renews their lease.
Notably absent from the package was a proposal that would have made it harder for landlords to evict tenants in most market-rate apartments statewide.
While tenant groups did not win total victory, they applauded the overall legislative package.
“I think this is a huge win for the tenant movement that will impact the lives of millions of renters in a way that beats back the real estate industry,” said Jonathan Westin, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, an advocacy group. “But we also feel we have a long way to go.”