Landlords get rent bill; tenants scare off some sponsors

CHIP’s Jay Martin calls withdrawals “not really that big of a deal”

Housing Justice For All’s Cea Weaver; (bottom) Assemblymembers George Alvarez, Brian Cunningham, Charles Fall, Yudelka Tapia; (middle) State Senatosrs Iwen Chu and Sean Ryan; (top) CHIP’s Jay Martin (CHIP, Getty, Linkedin, NY Assembly & State Assembly, Housing Justice For All)
Housing Justice For All’s Cea Weaver; (bottom) Assemblymembers George Alvarez, Brian Cunningham, Charles Fall, Yudelka Tapia; (middle) State Senatosrs Iwen Chu and Sean Ryan; (top) CHIP’s Jay Martin (CHIP, Getty, Linkedin, NY Assembly & State Assembly, Housing Justice For All)

A little over a year after landlords charted a route to charge more for vacant, rent-stabilized apartments, state electeds acted on that plan.

Last week, the Legislature introduced a bill that would let owners hike rents after renovating vacant units, allowing for the repairs required to bring those much-needed apartments back online.

It took only days for tenant advocates to start unraveling that work.

Since the legislation surfaced May 8, the advocates claim, they have persuaded a handful of legislators to withdraw their sponsorship of the bill.

Housing Justice For All’s Cea Weaver touted the tenant-side progress in a tweet this weekend.

“Within 48 hrs of @HellGateNY @ChristRobbins publishing this piece abt a bill to gut rent stabilization/ super-charge rent hikes we’ve gotten 5 electeds to drop sponsorship,” Weaver wrote, citing a Hell Gate article that questioned why 15 state Democrats had backed the bill.

“Lesson: don’t f*** with organized, rent stabilized tenants. HSTPA is here to stay,” Weaver added, referring to the 2019 law that ended the 20 percent rent increase for vacant units and substantial hikes to pay for renovations.

Weaver told The Real Deal that number had grown to six as of Tuesday morning: Assembly members George Alvarez, Brian Cunningham, Charles Fall and Yudelka Tapia, and state Senators Iwen Chu and Sean Ryan.

The tenant organizer said she expects more to follow.

Community Housing Improvement Program’s Jay Martin, the lobbyist who kicked off the campaign that inspired the bill, said he’d only heard of four drop-outs. He characterized them as “not really that big of a deal.”

“Some of the sponsors who have pulled their names haven’t told me they don’t support the bill,” Martin said. “They just don’t want their name on the bill.”

Alvarez pulled out by mistake, Martin claimed. Confusion among the legislator’s staff led him to believe he was abandoning a different bill.

“My understanding is he’s back on the bill,” Martin said. A spokesperson for Alvarez said he “has been removed from the bill.” 

Martin had not heard that Fall, who did not return a request for comment, had dropped off the bill.

As it stands, no co-sponsors who tied their names to the legislation have publicly renounced it.

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Those include primary sponsor Kenny Burgos and co-sponsors Edward Gibbs, Alicia Hyndman and Michael Benedetto in the Assembly, and sponsor Leroy Comrie in the state Senate, alongside co-sponsors Nathalia Fernandez, Luis Sepúlveda, Joseph Addabbo, John Mannion, Monica Martinez, Kevin Parker, Roxanne Persaud, Jessica Scarcella-Spanton and James Skoufis.

All failed to return requests for comment.

Martin, speaking on a drive back from Albany, said pressure from tenant advocates hasn’t stymied the bill’s momentum.

“As early as this week, just yesterday, we’ve had conversations with other folks who are going to put their names on this bill,” the landlord advocate said.

What Martin and landlord advocates on Twitter take greater issue with is the misinformation surrounding the legislation.

The bill would let owners raise rents in vacant apartments in which the previous tenant had lived for at least 10 years. To qualify, owners would need to renovate the unit, then send before-and-after photos, contractor licenses, lists of new appliances, and lead test results to the state housing agency.

Increases would bring an apartment’s rent in line with comparable stabilized units in the area, but not to market rate — a change from CHIP’s initial proposal.

Under the bill, tenants could challenge a hike. In that case, the state would tie the increase to the area’s fair market value as determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the rent of a similar property in the neighborhood, whichever is higher.

Some policy wonks have suggested the bill would create an incentive to illegally push tenants out, a practice the 2019 rent law sought to eradicate.

“This would not only reverse [the rent law], but roll it back—like, back to before rent-stabilized times,” the Community Service Society’s Sam Stein, told Hell Gate.

The bill has guardrails to prevent predatory actions. Landlords flagged for harassment or illegal evictions would be barred from adjusting rents on the associated apartment for three years.

Martin noted that the owners who can’t finance repairs in empty units — those the bill seeks to help — didn’t end up with vacancies by driving out tenants.

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“Those vacancies occurred over the past three years when housing court was closed, when pandemic protections prevented evictions from even happening,” he said.

“If the bill did what tenant advocates say it does, they would be well within their right to be upset,” Martin said. “But it doesn’t.”

Kathryn Brenzel contributed reporting.