NY State Assembly Passes Package of Bills to Strengthen Rent Laws

On Monday, February 2, 2009, the State Assembly passed a package of bills that would strengthen the rent laws in New York State.

The bills passed on February 2 include the following:

A2005 Repeals Vacancy Decontrol
Lead Sponsor: Rosenthal (D-Manhattan)
Currently, owners can decontrol rent regulated apartments and convert them to market rate housing when the legal regulated rent is $2,000 or more and the apartment becomes vacant. This provision of the law is a strong incentive for landlords to try to harass tenants until they vacate their apartment, and then use a variety of mechanisms to get the legal regulated rent as high as possible. New York has lost over 200,000 rent regulated apartments through vacancy decontrol over the past fifteen years. This bill would repeal this provision of the law, and also re-regulate certain units that have already been decontrolled and lost as affordable housing. 

A860   Raises Threshold for High Income High Rent Decontrol
Lead Sponsor: Bing (D-Manhattan)
Currently, rent regulated apartments can be decontrolled and converted to market rate housing when the household income is $175,000 per year for two consecutive calendar years and the legal regulated rent is $2000 per month or more. Once the apartment is decontrolled, it is permanently lost as affordable housing and future tenants do not have the protections of rent regulation. This bill would raise the threshold for high income decontrol to $240,000 per year and a monthly rent of $2700 or more.

A465   Prevents Owner from Adjusting Preferential Rent upon Lease Renewal
Lead Sponsor: Jeffries (D-Brooklyn)
Landlords are currently able to charge steep rent increases to tenants paying “preferential rents,” rents that are less than the legal regulated rent for the apartment, when the tenant’s lease comes up for renewal. Under this bill, the owner would only be able to adjust the preferential rent if the apartment becomes vacant, and only if the tenant did not leave because the owner failed to maintain a habitable residence.

A1685 Limits an Owner’s Ability to Recover Apartments for Personal Use
Lead Sponsor: Lopez (D-Manhattan)
Many landlords take over rent regulated apartments for their own use or the use of their family members, displacing long time residents. In some cases, they only use the apartment for a short time, if at all, and then convert it to market rate housing. This bill limits an owner’s ability to take possession of rent regulated apartments for personal use. It would permit the recovery of one apartment, and would require the owner to demonstrate an immediate and compelling need to use the apartment. It would also restrict the ability of the owner to take possession of the apartment in instances when the tenant has occupied the apartment for twenty years or more.

A1688 Repeals Urstadt Law
Lead Sponsor: Lopez (D-Manhattan)
The New York State legislature controls New York City’s rent laws. This bill allows New York City to strengthen its rent laws by providing more comprehensive coverage than that which is provided by New York State.



A463   Decreases Vacancy Bonus
Lead Sponsor: Jeffries (D-Brooklyn)
When a rent regulated apartment becomes vacant, owners receive a 20% vacancy bonus, meaning that they can add 20% to the legal regulated rent. This is a strong incentive for landlords to try to foster high turnover in their buildings. This bill would reduce the vacancy bonus from 20% to 10%.

A1928 Makes Major Capital Improvement Increases a Temporary Surcharge
Lead Sponsor: O’Donnell (D-Manhattan)
Many owners use MCI (Major Capital Improvement) increases as a mechanism for raising the legal regulated rent and bringing it closer to the threshold at which the apartment can become decontrolled upon vacancy. This bill would codify an MCI increase as a surcharge that does not become part of the base legal regulated rent by which rent increases are calculated. The rent surcharge would be a temporary one, which would cease when the cost of the improvement has been recouped.

A1687 Ensures Buildings Leaving Section 8 Program Are Protected
Lead Sponsor: Lopez (D-Manhattan)
Almost all buildings that leave the project based Section 8 program are converted to market rate housing. The tenants living in the building have to apply for Section 8 vouchers, which they may or may not actually receive, and future tenants have no protections at all. This bill extends the protections of rent regulation, which includes protections from speculative rent increases and baseless evictions, to tenants living in buildings that were formerly Section 8 developments. This bill applies to Section 8 buildings in New York City, Nassau, Westchester, and Rockland counties.

A857   Prevents Rent Increases Based on “Unique and Peculiar” Circumstances
Lead Sponsor: Bing (D-Manhattan)
This bill ensures that owners of buildings leaving the Mitchell-Lama program that would be covered by rent regulation do not apply for a steep rent increase based on “unique and peculiar circumstances.” Under this bill, the first rent after the building leaves the Mitchell-Lama program would be the last rent authorized for the building. This codifies a policy that has already been instituted by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal.