What ACTUALLY Passed in Albany?

I’m still a little annoyed by the endless headlines about how bad this deal is for the industry, and a lot of what I’d call clickbait, propaganda, and whining around it, but I want to break down what ACTUALLY happened, because facts > feelings. And there’s a lot of info that is relevant to you, the NY renter. 

OK, so what am I even talking about? The state senate in Albany spent months coming to an agreement over how to deal with the expiration of old rent stabilization laws, as well as how to protect tenants in general. Landlords pushed for less regulation because #profits, while tenant advocacy groups pushed for across the board caps on rent because #therentistoodamnhigh. Per usual, I feel the answer lay somewhere in the middle, and I’m pretty happy with what the bill contains (but I’ll get into what I DON’T agree with later). 

Basically, there were nine bills proposed, and according to representative Julia Salazar, my girl crush from North Brooklyn, all of them needed to pass in full in order to protect tenants.

Here’s the full breakdown of all nine, and here’s the 75 page bill that actually made it through, but for those of you who do not want to read all that (everyone), I’m here for you. I’ve broken down the basics of what was proposed versus what passed:

  1. Expand Emergency Tenant Protection Act - Doesn’t affect NYC, as we already have this, but this allows the state to regulate evictions anywhere that the vacancy rate is 5% or below. Because if there is no inventory available and you are evicted for an invalid reason, it’s easy to become homeless. PASSED IN PART

  2. Prohibit evictions “without good cause” - Tenants can only be evicted with “good cause.” Failure to pay rent IS cause enough for eviction, but this would state that if the increase is more than 1.5x the local inflation rate that can be considered an “unconscionable” increase. I know PLENTY of NYC landlords who as policy increase rents annually by more than this amount. DID NOT PASS.

  3. End Vacancy Decontrol - Apartments cannot suddenly become “free market” if comparable apts in the area are being rented for over $2700 and an apartment becomes vacant, which was the rule before. PASSED. PACKAGE ALSO ENDED “LUXURY DECONTROL.” Previously, if you earned $200k two years in a row the landlord could de-regulate the apartment while you were still living there (and without improving it).

  4. Eliminate Vacancy Bonus - Part of why landlords are so incentivized to get stabilized tenants out is that this turnover allowed them to increase the rent 20% instead of the percentage allowed by typical stabilization standards. PASSED. I agree with this because again, it incentivized landlords to actively get tenants out of their buildings so rents could increase more quickly. 

  5. Make Preferential Rents Permanent Until Vacancy - I have had friends and clients concerned when signing rent stabilized leases where they were receiving a preferential rent. This means that the market value of the apartment was less than the legal rent on the apartment. But this preferential rent was never guaranteed past the end of the lease term, and could sometimes result in huge (like a thousand dollars a month huge) jumps. This change would lock in the preferential rent and only allow stabilization-regulated increases until after the tenant moved out. PASSED.

  6. End Permanent Rent Hikes for “Major Capital Improvements” - While some landlords would make major, necessary improvements to their buildings and pass some of the expense onto their tenants, this often looked more like landlords making (or faking) massive, unnecessary renovations in order to increase rents and force out tenants. Unlike IAI’s, MCI’s do not require tenant consent and are not limited to vacancy periods. PARTIALLY PASSED.

  7. End permanent Rent Hikes for “Individual Apartment Improvements” - IAI’s are a big part of what my DHCR complaint is about. During a vacancy in a rent controlled apartment, landlords could put unlimited money into “improving” the apartment and pass the expense along to the future tenant. This was usually used to bring apartments up to market rate, and, unfortunately, the landlords often did not actually do the work, because the onus was on the tenant to figure it out. PASSED.

  8. Extend Time for Overcharge Complaints - I filed my DHCR complaint almost exactly four years after the overcharge occurred, and had I filed even a couple months later I would have been sh*t out of luck. It’s essentially a statute of limitations that kept agencies like the DHCR from investigating overcharge complaints if the complaint was filed more than 4 years after the overcharge occurred, and kept them from looking at any documents more than 4 years prior. So good landlords only had to hold onto their proof that they did the necessary work for four years, but bad landlords only had to dupe tenants for four years before the new, illegal rent would become legal. I think you can see which side I fall on here. PASSED. 

  9. Rent Control and Rent Stabilization Parity - I don’t know as much about rent control as I do about rent stabilization, because it only applies to a small number of existing leases that were signed pre-1986. And the only way these leases can be passed down is through blood relatives, so the real estate industry doesn’t get involved. Rent controlled apartments usually stay at the same rent for a very long time, but then will occasionally jump up large percentages, which is problematic for people who live on fixed incomes. This parity means that the amount rents in these units is limited the same way it is in stabilization. PASSED.

What do I think of this? Per usual, I can see both sides #teamempathy. I think that landlords absolutely have a right to earn money for being landlords. And the policies, the way they stood before, were there to protect them and help them keep earning more money as neighborhood rents increased. But unfortunately there are bad actors in any group, and I have again seen firsthand what happens in practice with MCI’s, IAI’s, predatory increases for non-stabilized rents, and how vacancy decontrol incentivized these people to harass tenants into moving out. 

This is why we can’t have nice things, guys! You took advantage of the system, so now you’re being put in “landlord time out.”

But everyone saying that these changes are horrific is probably exaggerating. I’ll continue to delve more into why over the next few days.