De Blasio echoes Cuomo’s push to limit rent hikes through renovations

De Blasio said Monday he supports making MCIs and IAIs temporary and defends his record on NYCHA lead poisoning
By Kathryn Brenzel and Georgia Kromrei | June 03, 2019 04:30PM

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking in Albany on June 3, 2019 (Credit: Georgia Kromrei | The Real Deal)

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking in Albany on June 3, 2019 (Credit: Georgia Kromrei | The Real Deal)

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday said he supports tweaking two controversial rent regulation programs to ensure that tenants aren’t overpaying for renovations.

Both the mayor and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have suggested reforming Major Capital Improvements and Individual Apartment Improvements, rather than eliminating the programs entirely, as proposed by the state Assembly and Senate. During a press conference on Monday at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, de Blasio echoed the governor’s support for limiting the amount of time landlords can impose rent increases through these programs, saying tenants should only be responsible for paying “their share of improvements and nothing more,” meaning that they don’t face permanent rent increases. Under the current law, landlords can repeatedly — and permanently — hike rents on stabilized apartments by doing certain renovations either building-wide or in individual units.

When asked by The Real Deal how such changes would address abuse of the programs — specifically, alleged fraud tied to the cost of these improvements — de Blasio said the state “has to show that enforcement has teeth,” which he said falls to the Division of Homes Community and Renewal. The mayor does not have any control over HCR, which is tasked with enforcing rent regulation laws and approving MCIs. The way the state law is currently written, landlords don’t have to get state approval to secure rent increases through IAIs or submit proof of renovation work.

De Blasio was in Albany on Monday meeting with legislators to discuss what he sees as priorities as the session nears an end. He called rent regulation reform the “single most important issue by far,” and expressed tepid support for legislation that prevents “inappropriate evictions,” in a nod to Julia Salazar’s contentious “Good Cause” eviction bill. The bill would guarantee renewals on leases to tenants statewide. He favors ending vacancy bonuses and vacancy decontrol and creating additional protections for tenants in the application of preferential rent. Proposed legislation would make preferential rent — a rent rate below the legally allowed amount in rent stabilized units — permanent, with only standard rent guidelines board increases until an apartment is vacated.

At the start of the press conference, de Blasio made a point of commending state Senate and Assembly leaders for what they’ve accomplished so far this session.

“I have a tremendous amount of admiration for Carl Heastie and Andrea Stewart-Cousins,” he said. The mayor didn’t mention his arch-nemesis, the governor, who last week expressed frustration with Senate Democrats.

“I hope their eyes aren’t bigger than their stomach (sic),” Cuomo said on WAMC’s The Roundtable last week. “The new Senate is still feeling its way. They have work to do.”

But presidential candidate de Blasio tempered his positions on the package of nine rent regulation reform bills.

“We don’t want our building owners to stop investing in their buildings,” he said. He also noted that “some landlords, I’m not saying the majority” are exploiting loopholes in certain rent regulation programs.

In response to a recent report by the New York Post indicating that interim NYCHA Chairwoman Kathryn García left out key details about officials’ failure to investigate whether children’s exposure to lead, de Blasio touted low levels of lead poisoning in NYCHA housing and said there has been a “tremendous focus” on legislation to combat the problem. The ongoing crisis saw more than 4,700 children with elevated levels of lead in 2018, according to a Department of Health report released in April. The mayor said that “lead czar” García planned to “go at lead everywhere, especially in private housing.” In a letter to García, the federal monitor appointed to oversee NYCHA, Bart Schwartz, said the agency didn’t do enough to investigate children who may be exposed to lead — relying on residents’ reports instead of carrying out site visits.

When asked about the Post story, the mayor said he has a lot of respect for the monitor, but said his “assessment of [García’s] testimony was not right.”

De Blasio noted that he’s also pushing for the expansion of design build authority to city agencies. While individual projects — like the replacements of Rikers — have gotten the go-ahead to use the project delivery system, state officials have stopped short of giving the city clearance to use it. He said he’s also hopeful that the state will address the legalization of marijuana before the end of the session, even though Cuomo has said that likely won’t happen.