New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) made the unprecedented decision to freeze rents on one-year lease renewals for rent-stabilized apartments when it met on June 29. The panel’s 7 to 2 decision will affect about 1.2 million tenants whose leases are up for renewal in the coming year. The rent freeze was the goal of a grassroots campaign for rent reductions led by a citywide coalition of housing, community, and legal service organizations, including New York State Tenants & Neighbors (Tenants & Neighbors), an NLIHC State Coalition Partner.
The RGB, consisting of two landlord representatives, two tenant representatives, and five public members, has regulated rents on more than one million rent-stabilized apartments for 46 years. The RGB also limited the rent increase on two-year lease renewals to a record low 2% in its June 29 actions. In 2014, the board voted for its lowest ever rent increases, up to 1% for one-year lease renewals and 2.75 % for two-year lease renewals. Over the past three years, New York City rents have increased at a median rate of 4.3%.
The rent freeze will apply to about 60% of all rent-stabilized units in New York City. The RGB decision was based on data showing that landlord operating incomes have grown over the last nine years. In 2014, landlord operating incomes increased by 3.4% while operating costs increased by 0.5%. Although advocates hoped for a rent rollback to make up for past increases, they are satisfied by this year’s historic decision and are hopeful that rent reductions may occur in future years.
The RGB votes, the first by a board completely appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D), came one week after the New York state legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) upheld for another four years current rent regulations that negatively impact tenants. The Alliance for Tenant Power, a group of five statewide organizations working with and for tenants, advocated for the elimination of “vacancy control” deregulation, which allows landlords to remove an apartment from rent-stabilization when there is a vacancy and the new rent exceeds $2,700. Vacancy decontrol encourages landlords to displace long-term residents and increase rents to the deregulation threshold. Advocates estimate that over the next four years, 100,000 rent-stabilized apartments will be lost due to vacancy decontrol.
Alliance for Tenant Power organized more than 5,000 tenants and elected officials to participate in lobby meetings and rallies at the state capitol. Advocates held a sleep-out at Governor Cuomo’s office in New York City that included Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. A later sleep-out was held at the state capitol grounds in Albany in what tenant leaders dubbed as “Cuomoville.” Throughout the campaign, Governor Cuomo did not meet with tenant groups. He joined with the Republican-controlled State Senate to preserve vacancy decontrol.
“We are pleased that the Rent Guidelines Board moved forward with this historic and necessary rent freeze for New York renters,” said Katie Goldstein, Executive Director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors. “While we were tremendously let down by Governor Cuomo, we see that there is hope for progress at the local level. The Alliance for Tenant Power carried a strong voice in the state legislative process, and we will continue to fight for stronger rent laws for low and moderate income New Yorkers.”
For more information, contact Katie Goldstein, Executive Director of Tenants & Neighbors at firstname.lastname@example.org.