How many landlords does it take to change a lightbulb? Metropolitan Council on Housing volunteer Mary Crosby posed the rhetorical question to members of the Rent Guidelines Board at last night’s public hearing at Cooper Union. “None, because everyone knows landlords don’t do repairs anymore,” she said. Here’s another one for you: how many owners does it take to change a lightbulb? You’ll never guess… it’s also “none,” she said, “because the owners have removed the light sockets during an eviction.”
Karen Platt has been channeling her frustrations through the satisfying scrape of chalk across concrete. After years of living with dust, noise, and health hazards caused by construction, repeated and seemingly relentless service cut-offs, and what she says are intentional moves by her landlord to clear her (and other rent-regulated tenants like her) out of her longtime home at 522 East 5th Street in the East Village, Platt’s sidewalk messages reveal she has reached a breaking point: “Lack of services is harassment” and “Enough is Enough.”
As Platt explained to B+B, since Icon Realty Management bought her building, things took a turn for the miserable. “I’ve lived in New York my whole life and I’ve never, ever been treated like this,” she said.
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.”
“All you landlords, you can’t hide. We can see your greedy side,” and “All my money is spent when I pay my rent” were the chants that rose from housing activists and tenants at the Great Hall at Cooper Union yesterday evening. They rallied to demand that the Rent Guidelines Board roll back rents when it meets Monday to set new rent levels for regulated apartments.
Mayor de Blasio announced today that his Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force has made its first arrest, of a landlord who, among other things, stands accused of illegally depriving rent-regulated tenants of heat even as temperatures were below freezing. The indictment of Daniel Melamed for allegedly endangering the welfare of his tenants during winter renovations of his Crown Heights building “sends a clear signal to any unscrupulous landlords that they will be next,” De Blasio said. “And we’ll spare no effort in going out – going after those who are forcing New Yorkers out of their homes illegally.”
The Rent Guidelines Board met last Thursday ahead of voting to determine the maximum allowable rent increase for rent regulated apartments throughout New York City. The same review happens annually, but this year there’s a special sense of urgency as rents continue to rise amidst falling incomes and a precipitous drop in rent regulated housing stock, which account for some 1 million homes in the city. Proponents of rent regulation agree that the system is badly in need of reform, but it remains to be seen what exactly that might look like when Albany revisits the rent regulation laws, which expire on June 15. Many affordable housing advocates are worried that powerful real estate interests might prevail. But for now, it’s up to the RGB to decide whether or not to continue on a course of raising rents for rent regulated tenants or take the advice of some lawmakers and freeze rents.