Landlords boycott in-person rent board hearings

Owners retreat to Zoom after tenant protest derails meeting

Last month, tenant advocates stormed the stage at the Rent Guidelines Board meeting to protest potential rent hikes.

Ahead of tonight’s meeting, landlord groups are staging their own protest, recommending owners sit out.

The advice, they say, stems from growing safety concerns and a desire to be heard.

After activists and City Council members derailed the May meeting, board chair Nestor Davidson wrote Mayor Eric Adams, expressing “strong concerns” around “public safety” given “the aggressive events.”

Footage of the preliminary vote shows the politicians and tenant activists circling board members as Christina Smyth, a landlord representative on the board, began to detail her proposal for a rent increase. The demonstrators raised their fists and chanted “rent rollback.”

Davidson eventually adjourned the meeting as the shouting drowned out the discourse.

“Over the past two years tenants have become more and more intimidating,” Ann Korchak, head of the Small Property Owners of New York said. The group has advised members to skip the two in-person hearings this week and attend Tuesday’s virtual meeting instead.

“I was verbally attacked after the Bronx meeting last year,” Korchak added. “The meetings have taken on a whole new level of vitriol.”

The Rent Stabilization Association, the largest of the city’s stabilized landlord groups, also steered tenants toward tomorrow’s remote hearing to sidestep “intimidation and fear tactics.”

A third group, the Community Housing Improvement Program, said it had been “more subtly” discouraging attendance.

“We can’t in good conscience encourage owners to attend or assume that they won’t be subject to both verbal and physical intimidation that would be worse than previous years,” spokesperson Michael Johnson said.

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Pandemic unemployment and the state’s controversial rent relief program led to some tenants falling deeply into arrears. For some owners, unpaid rent — as well as rising expenses and interest rates and the 2019 rent law’s restrictions on rent increases — has caused financial straits.

In 2020 and 2021, the board prioritized tenants’ troubles, voting to freeze rents. But recently, landlords’ problems have entered the spotlight, inciting aggressive pushback from tenants and their allies in City Council.

Safety concerns aside, owners say the more immediate worry is an inability to be heard at a crucial vote. Owners say without an ample rent hike, more struggling buildings will sink.

“I’ve been screamed at, there’s been cowbells and whistles while I’m trying to say my piece,” said Ann Korchak, small landlord and SPONY president. 

“Any tenant who comes up to speak never has to endure that, ever,” she added.

Presenting virtually, RSA’s Michael Tobman said, will ensure owner “testimony will not be disrupted, silenced and drowned out.”

“All voices must be heard in this process – especially the voices of small building owners,” Tobman said.

But landlords also acknowledge that missing the in-person forums means losing the effectiveness of a face-to-face appeal.

Korchak said of Monday’s meeting in Queens, “It is the better forum for us to be heard.”

The final rent board vote will be held in person on June 21 at 7 p.m. Any approved increases will be effective for leases signed on or after Oct. 1.

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