New York State Tenants & Neighbors, an NLIHC State Coalition Partner, is celebrating a significant victory in its fight to strengthen New York State’s rent stabilization laws. In January, New York State’s Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) agency released strong regulations addressing substantial loopholes that have led to the loss of affordable units and allowed landlords to impose rent increases that violate the rent stabilization code. The release of new regulations follows a three-year campaign to overhaul the code, involving community, housing, and legal advocacy organizations.
Rent stabilization, a form of rent regulation in New York State, has protected many tenants from sharp increases in rent. In recent decades, this vital housing affordability tool has been threatened by property owners who have used flaws in the code to impose unlawful rent increases and perpetuate discriminatory practices leading to the loss of affordable units and the displacement of low to moderate income renters.
In 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation that renewed the Rent Act and avoided the sunset of the rent laws. The Act provided for expanded rent regulations for the first time in nearly two decades, and mandated the HCR to establish rules for the enforcement of rent law provisions. Tenants & Neighbors and its allies were vital in the establishment of key amendments to the Rent Act and testified in support of the rule at HCR hearings (see Memo, 9/27/13).
The final rule formalizes the establishment of the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU), a legal body overseen by HCR that has the authority to investigate and prosecute violations of the state’s rent laws. The TPU was formed in 2012 but its formalization following the 2011 Rent Act renewal allows it greater independence to take action against violations.
On February 4, state officials announced that Governor Cuomo had restored more than 28,000 units that were wrongfully deregulated. According to the Daily News, audits performed by the TPU revealed that some landlords did not properly register apartments with the state, while other owners could not provide proper documentation for disconnecting units from the rent regulation system. The announcement came nearly three weeks after Governor Cuomo announced a settlement in a tenant harassment and discrimination case involving Spanish speaking tenants in approximately 1,800 apartments. The TPU reached an agreement with Castellan Real Estate Partners/Liberty Place Property Management, which requires compensation for the tenants, and gives wrongfully evicted tenants the option to return. Advocates are excited about the continued oversight the TPU will bring to landlord and tenant relations.
The regulations also include measures to reduce rent fraud by requiring greater transparency in how rents are raised, impose greater penalties for landlords that fail to register rent amounts for regulated units, and strengthen tenants’ ability to challenge long-standing illegal rents. In addition, the rule expands the definition of harassment to include false filings the landlord makes against the tenant before HCR or housing court. Advocates believe the measure will encourage more residents to take action against harassment and discriminatory practices.
“Rent regulated housing is the primary source of housing for low income New Yorkers,” said Katie Goldstein, Director of Organizing at Tenants & Neighbors. “The pressure to deregulate apartments has led to the de-stabilization of diverse neighborhoods. The re-regulation of 28,000 units of affordable housing, the Tenant Protection Unit’s settlement against Castellan/Liberty Place, and the new regulations are incredibly important for low and moderate income rent regulated tenants, and show an important shift in regulatory policy.”