Moments before the Rent Guidelines Board’s final vote Tuesday evening on rent increases, two camps prepared for the tense hearing.
Joe Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, smoked a cigar with RGB owner member Scott Walsh and RSA Chairman Aaron Sirulnick, while around the corner of Cooper Union, boisterous tenants shouted “rent freeze!
In a final vote, the RGB recommended a 1.5 percent increase for one-year leases and 2.5 percent hike for two-year leases for both rent-stabilized apartments and lofts, with a 39 percent permissible increase for decontrolled units.
Members previously recommended between .5 to 2.75 percent increase for one-year leases and a 1.5 to 3.75 percent hike for two-year leases in the board’s preliminary vote in May.
Ahead of the meeting, Strasburg said he wasn’t optimistic about the outcome of the vote.
“You would think, in light of what happened in Albany, the board would approve a higher increase,” Strasburg said. “But we’re not sure they will act responsibly.”
“Tonight is the last line of defense. This is small property owners taking a stand against the evisceration of owner profits,” Sirulnick said. “We are hoping the board will use the opportunity to do the right thing.”
The RGB also approved a proposal to keep rent increases on hotels and SROs flat, with no vacancy bonus. The measure passed seven to two.
A proposal put forth by tenant member Sheila Garcia —which recommended a rent freeze for one-year renewals and 1 percent increases for two-year proposals — failed three to six, with public member German Tejeda voting yes along with the two tenant members. The vote was met with shouts of “shame!” from the crowd.
Owner member Scott Walsh put forth proposal 12 to cap rent increases based on the number of rent-stabilized units in an apartment building. Walsh struggled to read his testimony as a tenant who had fashioned a megaphone out of a sign broke through the barricade before security sprang into action. The entirety of Walsh’s speech was inaudible as tenants shouted “Shame on you.” The measure failed two to seven.
The vote comes on the heels of a sweeping package of rent laws that eliminated the vacancy bonus, luxury decontrol, vacancy decontrol and put caps on Major Capital Improvements and Individual Apartment Improvements, two programs that allowed landlords to justify rent increases through renovations. The changes put new pressure on the Rent Guidelines Board to pass legislation that would relieve the financial squeeze as landlords stare down the barrel of the new rent laws.