The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) hearing on June 21 was the final meeting that determined the rent adjustments for 1-year and 2-year leases signed between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023. Chants and whistles from tenants and their advocates could be heard in the background as the meeting came to order. The RGB is made up of five public members, two owner members, and two tenant members; the nine members are appointed by the NYC Mayor.
The first order of business was the vote for a 0% increase on proposal 1: Hotel Order #52 (residential class A apartment hotels; lodging houses; rooming houses, class B buildings containing less than 30 units; class B hotels; and single room occupancy buildings). When casting their vote, both of the tenant members, Sheila Garcia and Adnán Soltren, voted yes and added they hoped the board would vote the same for rent-stabilized apartments. Cheers were heard from the audience.
Next order of business was Apartment and Loft Order #54. RGB Chair David Reiss stated that tenant members were up first to submit a proposal, and if it didn’t receive enough votes to pass the owner members would submit their proposal to be voted on.
“What type of people ask whether tenants are really struggling that badly? People who are out of touch. People who do not believe that a 3.5% increase [will] cripple families and drive them into the street,”Adnán Soltren, Rent Guidelines Board Tenant Representative
Soltren made a statement before submitting the tenant member proposal. He acknowledged it was his first year on the board and that he was eager to see how this neutral process worked. He reported that it wasn’t neutral to his view: that tenant representatives’ questions were overlooked and that tenant struggles were called into question. “Who asks that in an ongoing pandemic, with inflation over 8%, with homelessness and eviction cases at record levels, the cost of groceries and gas skyrocketing, when salaries haven’t increased to keep up with the increase in expenses. Stabilized tenants are living in deplorable conditions. Yes, deplorable. What type of people ask whether tenants are really struggling that badly? People who are out of touch. People who do not believe that a 3.5% increase [will] cripple families and drive them into the street,” Soltren said. The deplorable conditions comment was a callback to tenant testimony that catalogued conditions of disrepair, construction as harassment, vermin infestation, etc. Soltren also referenced that rental housing was the main story on the This Week Tonight episode to air on June 19, and quoted John Oliver, the show’s host, “[This] is the core issue with rental housing in this country though: people who think that investments deserve more respect than basic human needs. And it has set up a system designed to ensure that some people just spiral down.” Soltren then moved to enter the tenant members proposal: 1-year lease 0% and 2-year lease 2% for apartments and lofts.
Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, RGB public member, then commented. “I want to address the assertion that the only way for owners to cover their operating expenses is to raise the rent. Landlord representatives have told us at these hearings since the HSTPA [Housing Stability & Tenant Protection Act of 2019] closed alternative avenues of raising rents beyond the levels that are voted on by this board that they now depend on high enough increases from this board in order to keep up with operating expenses. This is simply not true.” He explained that rent couldn’t be the only input that the tax burden on property owners could be lessened by government for instance.
Sheila Garcia, RGB tenant member, commented that “The fix was in . . . Nine years I have been on this board. Never have I had a chair just not reach out because they were gonna do what they were gonna do.”
RGB Chair Reiss called for the vote on the 0% increase for 1-year and 2% increase for 2-year leases. Six voted it down (Arpit Gupta, David Reiss, Alex Schwartz, Christina DeRose, Robert Ehrlich, and Christina Smyth); three voted to pass it (Sheila Garcia, Adán Soltren, and Christian Gonzalez-Rivera), and thus the motion failed.
The owner members’, Robert Ehrlich and Christina Smyth, spoke before they submitted their proposal.
Ehrlich struggled some over the crowd’s boos yet persisted. “This board has been given the very difficult task of administering a rent adjustment virtually guaranteeing that both renters and their housing providers will lose. This happens every year. The cost of housing continues to go up, elected officials continue to do little to nothing to stop it, and yet this board is tasked with making an impossible decision.”
“As a board if we keep rents significantly lower than operating expenses we are risking the decay of rent-stabilized housing. Our own data shows us that this is starting to happen.”Christina Smyth, Rent Guidelines Board Owner Representative
Christina Smyth, who vocally extended the length of her ‘no’ when she voted down the tenant members’ proposal and who sat unseen to the YouTube audience as her seat was behind a Doric column, continued the owner members’ proposal without skipping a beat from Ehrlic’s last word and despite the continuing boos. Smyth said, “As a board if we keep rents significantly lower than operating expenses we are risking the decay of rent-stabilized housing. Our own data shows us that this is starting to happen.” She cited a statistic, “roughly half of the buildings with more than 80% rent-stabilized housing are in distress.”
Ehrlich continued, “A rent adjustment that would be high enough to cover the rising costs would likely be in the range of 6%–8% on a 1-year lease, which would be a significant shock to many renters. The preliminary range proposed by this board clearly took that into consideration.” He listed the costs that landlords face as, “high cost of inflation, growing property taxes, rising water rates, and a host of [unfunded?] mandates put forth by the city council disproportionally on the property owners instead of the tenant.”
Smyth added, “Our vote today is out of necessity, to find balance between the tenant’s burden to pay and the property owner’s ability to maintain the housing that is safe, clean, and livable.” She stated that no matter what happens nobody wins here, and that government is the only agency that can solve this and end the yearly political theater between tenants and property owners.
Ehrlich moved to adopt a proposal that would increase 1-year leases to 6% and 2-year leases to 9%.
Garcia spoke up to say that the owner members’ argument that higher rents trickledown to building maintenance had been disproven in a previous meeting, that it is a fallacy.
Chair Reiss called the vote on the owner members’ proposal. The motion failed as only Smyth and Ehrlich voted for their proposal and the remaining seven voted against it.
Reiss moved to adopt the following increases 3.25% for 1-year lease and 5% for a 2-year lease. Among his arguments for this level of increase rental housing remains scarce and at a rate that places NYC in a housing emergency and allows for rent adjustments, also that there was a 4.2% average increase in owner expenses for rent-stabilized buildings. Tenant burdens were also considered as the data showed that 50% of rent-stabilized tenants were rent burdened (paying at least 30% of their income for rent) and that 31% of these were paying more than 50% of household income toward rent. “I believe that this proposal best balances the need of owners . . . and those of tenants,” said Reiss before he called for a vote.
Before the vote, Soltren requested that each public member explain their vote for the increase. That request went unanswered.
The motion passed with five votes (Gupta, Reiss, Schwartz, DeRose, and Smyth) for it and four votes (Ehrlich, Garcia, Rivera, and Soltren) against. Rent will go up for 3.25% for a 1-year lease and 5% for a 2-year lease for stabilized tenants enewing their leases between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023.
Market Rate Apartments
Tenants who live in market-rate apartments renew at the whims or mercy of their building management. There is no limit to how much they can raise the rent. As the city is adjusting to living amongst COVID-19 and approaching a normalcy, many North Brooklyn tenants are reporting market-rate landlords are asking for 30%–75% increases in rent to renew a lease.
“Do I stay and fight or go home to Texas? . . . “I saw myself living here indefinitely in this apartment. This increase has caused us to scramble. To make life decisions now that we didn’t think were on the table.”Grace, a market-rate tenant who received nearly a 30% increase in rent to renew her lease
In May, Grace, who moved to South 5th Street last summer, reported on Nextdoor the shocking news that she received a notice that the rent for her two-bedroom apartment would go from $2500 to $3250 per month, which is just under a 30% increase.
In an interview with GREENLINE she said after receiving the notice the first questions she asked her landlord was if the increase was correct, as she thought this had to be an error. She asked a neighbor in the building who renewed their lease in February what their increase was and was told $50 more per month. Her landlord offered to negotiate the increase and asked her to submit an offer. Grace offered $2650, this offer was rejected with the advice that her next offer needed to be much closer to $3250.
Grace reached out to Southside United H.D.F.C. — Los Sures, who told her that it appears her unit should be under rent stabilization. They suggested a rent strike and that she should form a tenant union with their neighbors. Grace said that she’s comfortable asking her neighbors about this but hadn’t reached out yet as she received that advice only two days prior. Her current lease will end July 31, but her landlord hasn’t set a deadline. She and her roommate have given themselves until June 30 to decide.
“Do I stay and fight or go home to Texas? I’ve lived in New York City for three years. It’s always been a goal to move here.” Grace works as a comedian and an actor, and she also works in an executive coaching. “I saw myself living here indefinitely in this apartment. This increase has caused us to scramble. To make life decisions now that we didn’t think were on the table.”
When asked how ‘good’ her building’s management is when it comes to upkeep, Grace said, “The landlord does the bare minimum for upkeep. We had a roach problem last winter the exterminator came promptly, but the entire building had this issue and they only addressed our apartment.” She also shares that there have been impromptu heat and water shutoffs, some happened during lockdown. She cites negative reviews of her building on Open Igloo that mention gas and heat shutoffs, shoddy repairs, and lawsuits brought by tenants.
Grace is not alone, and the sad thing is most of those who reported huge rent hikes left their previous home behind to find an apartment that they could afford. Many times, this takes them out of the neighborhood. The current rental market is causing a lot of stress and displacement. Those who intended on setting down roots have had to move on.
“We need to keep organizing, advocating, and pushing those of us in elected office to do the right thing. We can’t look away from this housing crisis or deny our responsibility for helping to fix it. Good Cause Eviction can help our neighbors stay in their homes, and I hope the activism and energy for it only grows over the coming months.”NYS Assembly Member Emily Gallagher
Legislation was introduced in 2019 to bring more protections for market-rate rents. The Good Cause Eviction Law (NYS Senate Bill S2892B) was introduced with other rent laws in 2019, but it didn’t pass. Then COVID-19 happened. State officials hoped to vote on this bill this year, but it didn’t make it to the vote. The Good Cause Eviction Bill addresses market-rate rents in that a landlord needs to justify a rent increase of more than 3% and under some circumstances the increase could be fought in court.
“We have been pushing for good cause eviction protections since 2019 when my colleagues Senator Julia Salazar and Assembly Member Pamela Hunter initially introduced the legislation, and it has never been more important than it is today. Enactment of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act [of 2019] represented a huge step forward in standing up for tenants, closing loopholes that allowed some landlords to profit from unscrupulous and sometimes predatory practices, stabilizing our communities, and preventing homelessness. But we still have much work to do, and establishing in law the reasonable principles behind the good cause eviction legislation is central to that work,” said NYS Senator Brian Kavanagh, chair of the Senate Housing Committee.
“It’s sad and disappointing to see that the Good Cause Eviction Bill failed to make it through the voting process in this year’s legislative session. This will only exacerbate the homelessness problem we currently face here in New York State. We do not want tenants being targeted during these challenging times or any given time where housing is imperative. In the near future we will witness the repercussions of families being displaced if we do not act now,” said NYS Assembly Member Maritza Davila
NYS Assembly Member Emily Gallagher said, “I’m incredibly frustrated and deeply concerned for my constituents and all New Yorkers that we failed to pass Good Cause Eviction his session. I hear every week from tenants facing 50%, 75% or even greater rent hikes, forcing them out of their homes and communities. The real estate industry spent a ton of money to mislead legislators and the public about Good Cause and yet polls consistently showed its wide popularity. We need to muster more courage to tackle the biggest challenges facing working people and I’m committed to keep up the fight.” On what steps to take moving forward, Gallagher said, “We need to keep organizing, advocating, and pushing those of us in elected office to do the right thing. We can’t look away from this housing crisis or deny our responsibility for helping to fix it. Good Cause Eviction can help our neighbors stay in their homes, and I hope the activism and energy for it only grows over the coming months.”
Davila shared her view on how to make Good Cause Eviction more viable, “We need to go back to the drawing board and have a robust discussion on the future implementation of the bill. In the meantime, I’m hopeful Good Cause Eviction will pass next legislative session as we work on a state level gathering bipartisanship support.”
Until that dream legislation passes, the struggle remains all too real.