MHCC Letter to Gov. Cuomo: Our Rent Regulation Laws Must Be Renewed and Strengthened

April 15, 2019

The Morningside Heights Community Coalition (MHCC) is composed of residents of the Morningside Heights neighborhood committed to ensuring responsible and contextual development and preserving affordable housing in our community.

We join with Community Board 9 in supporting legislative efforts to protect tenants. Renewal of rent regulation laws is essential to preserve remaining affordable housing units in our neighborhood.

But renewing the laws is not nearly enough: the legislature must end weakening provisions that have led to the loss of rent stabilized apartments. It is most important to end vacancy decontrol (S2501/A1198), which has provided landlords with a way to permanently end the affordable rents and security of tenure that come with rent stabilization. In addition to repealing vacancy decontrol, the legislature must put a stop to the various loopholes that give landlords the tools to increase rents to the levels at which the apartment is decontrolled upon vacancy.

First, the legislature should eliminate the twenty percent vacancy bonus (S185/A2351): this enormous jump in rent, far beyond what is necessary to maintain the apartment during a vacancy, incentivizes removing existing tenants.

Secondly, preferential rents should last for the duration of a tenancy (S2845/A4349). Allowing landlords to revert to the legal regulated rent at the time of lease renewal subjects tenants to the threat of displacement whenever the neighborhood real estate market takes off.

Third, major capital improvement (MCI) increases that result in large rent hikes should be eliminated (S3693/A4401), or at least made temporary, ending when the cost of the improvement is paid off.

Fourth, individual apartment improvement rent increases, a particular subject of fraud and abuse, as recently detailed by Crain’s New York Business, should be eliminated (S299/A167). Landlords make improvements when an apartment becomes vacant, and, since the process is unmonitored by the State Homes and Community Renewal, they inflate the cost to get large rent increases that move the apartment closer to the vacancy decontrol threshold.

Our neighborhood has seen the recent loss of many rent stabilized apartments, as landlords exploit loopholes in the law. All of the reforms listed above would help to contain many of the causes of displacement in Morningside Heights.
Other reforms are also necessary to stem the tide of displacement and homelessness. S2892/A503 would prohibit evictions without good cause, giving tenants who do not live in rent-stabilized housing some security of tenure.

There is an additional issue that particularly affects neighborhoods such as Morningside Heights, where institutions own substantial portions of the housing stock. Institutionally-owned apartments are deregulated upon death or departure of the rent-stabilized tenant who lived in the building prior to purchase by the institution. Columbia University is the major landlord in our community and bought many private buildings filled with rent-stabilized tenants. When these tenants leave their Columbia-owned apartments, rather than the apartments going to a legal successor. or another member of the community seeking housing, the apartments go to Columbia to rent to students, faculty or staff members at whatever rent Columbia wants to charge. This loophole in the law amounts to another form of vacancy decontrol, depriving our community of desperately needed affordable housing units.

Given the acute crisis in the availability of housing accessible to low and moderate income people, one of our primary objectives is to protect the remaining affordable housing units in the neighborhood. Our community faces a wave of new housing development, but no new affordable housing is being built: six hundred twenty-eight all market-rate units are currently in the pipeline. Strengthening and expanding rent regulation would significantly help us to preserve our dwindling affordable housing stock.

In conclusion, we call upon the state legislature to reform the Rent Stabilization Law to end all forms of vacancy decontrol and close the most glaring loopholes in the law.


For further information, contact:
Dave Robinson
MHCC Executive Committee

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