Minutes and hours after Albany extended rent laws for four years, elected officials were already complaining that changes to the laws don’t go far enough.
“Just when it seemed Albany couldn’t get worse, it did,” wrote State Senator Daniel Squadron, whose district includes the Lower East Side, East Village, Greenpoint and Williamsburg. “This year’s legislative session has just ended. I’m sorry to say, there’s a lot to be frustrated and disappointed about. This year offered a chance to extend and strengthen rent laws, but Albany came up short.”
In an email sent to constituents shortly after midnight, he blamed State Republicans for failing to end vacancy decontrol and limiting vacancy rent increases. With the passing of the bill, vacant apartments will become deregulated once they reach a rent of $2,700, rather than the previous threshold of $2,500. Some had sought an even higher threshold of $3,000 or the outright abolition of the threshold.
Among other changes announced by the Governor, fines for landlords who harass tenants were increased by $1,000, to $3,000 per offense and up to $11,000 for each offense intended to push a tenant out. If landlords decide to make like HGTV and improve an apartment, they won’t get as much of an increase in rent as they did before the bill passed.
Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, whose district includes swathes of Greenpoint and Williamsburg, had a more positive take. He told us in a statement that “the final legislation offers hard fought protections for tenants. Is our work done? Not by a long shot. But this session has netted progress for tenants in our community. Work on behalf of tenants needs to continue on various fronts – the rent law reform package we just did is a very important protection; funding for Legal Services is essential so they can fight tenant harassment vigorously and we need to continue to find ways to create affordable units in the marketplace.”
According to the governor’s website, the 421-a tax abatement program was extended for six months and can be extended to four years if labor and industry groups come to an agreement about wage protections for construction workers. The program, which requires a certain percentage of affordable housing, will now allow developers to receive the abatement for 35 rather than 25 years, Capital New York reports.
Though the new laws didn’t include a “mansion tax” sought by Mayor de Blasio, he expressed satisfaction with them overall. “We’ve secured a strong new program with most of the reforms we sought: requiring affordable housing in every corner of the city, doubling the number of affordable apartments produced, and slashing the subsidy per apartment dramatically,” de Blasio said. “It also looks like we’ve successfully ended benefits for luxury condos, with only mid-market units in the outer boroughs now eligible. Taken as a whole, this is a game-changer. From the get-go, we focused on making good policy, and we’ve achieved just that.”
Still, the package is unlikely to please tenants and activists who are framing rising rents as a human rights issue and are calling for rent freezes and the end of vacancy decontrol.
In an e-mail message, State Senator Brad Hoylman, whose district includes parts of the East Village, characterized the so-called “Big Ugly” bill as “a smorgasbord of unattractive, half-baked legislative ideas rushed to the Senate floor in areas ranging from rent regulations to public education.” He explained many in the legislature didn’t have time to read the massive bills before voting on them. “Perhaps most importantly, the Republican Senate rejected an Assembly proposal to strengthen rent regulations, instead choosing to largely maintain the status quo for four more years while allowing tenants to continue to be victimized by rising rents, abusive landlords, and other onerous barriers to affordable housing in New York City.”