Rent board approves 2.75% hike as landlords, tenants take aim at broken process

Owner members claim “inappropriate political pressure,” votes “based on fear”

From left: Tenant member Adán Soltren, owner member Robert Ehrlich, Rent Guidelines Board Chair Nestor Davidson and Mayor Eric Adams (YouTube, Fordham University, Lazarus Karp LLP, X)
From left: Tenant member Adán Soltren, owner member Robert Ehrlich, Rent Guidelines Board Chair Nestor Davidson and Mayor Eric Adams (YouTube, Fordham University, Lazarus Karp LLP, X)

After landlord members voiced concerns for their safety at the Rent Guidelines Board final vote, tenant advocates and electeds rallied outside the meeting at Manhattan’s Hunter College, temporarily blocking the building entrance and driving the New York City Police Department to make arrests.

In the end, that tenant showing amounted to bluster.

Both tenant and owner members ahead of the vote acknowledged that no amount of protest or landlord testimony could sway the RGB. It had already made up its mind.

The board approved Chair Nestor Davidson’s proposal for a 2.75 percent rent hike on one-year, rent-stabilized leases and a 5.25 percent increase on two-year leases. 

The motion passed by a 5-4 vote. The RGB also froze rents on stabilized hotels.

Tenant member Adán Soltren, who walked out of a preliminary RGB meeting in April after denouncing the rent board’s failure to follow its own data, used his testimony to denounce the public members of the board.

The four representatives, along with Davidson, comprise the majority of the nine-member board and their votes typically determine the annual rent increases.

“The public members tasked with voting on rental adjustments as members of the public have failed you again,” he said during a lengthy testimony advocating for a result that would allow tenants, particularly low-income renters, “to stay in their homes.”

“[Public members] lack the courage to depart from moderation and centrism,” he added.

Soltren and fellow tenant member Genesis Aquino proposed a rent freeze, which failed to pass by a 2-7 vote.

Soltren had little faith it would. 

“We will vote, and be outvoted by those ultimately in favor of a third consecutive rent increase in three years,” he said in an email ahead of the vote. 

Landlord member Robert Ehrlich spoke to similar concerns ahead of Monday’s vote.

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“He boxes us out,” Ehrlich said of Davidson, adding that the former board chair, David Reiss, would have open discussions about where members stood before the final vote.

Ehrlich and owner member Christina Smyth proposed a 4.5 percent increase on one-year leases and 6.5 percent hike on two-year terms, the upper limit of the adjustments the board approved during its preliminary vote

The one-year increase also aligned with a 4 percent hike the RGB recommended, citing its own data, to ensure rents kept pace with rising costs. Landlords claim distress has descended on rent-stabilized properties, as the 2019 rent law effectively capped building revenues outside of the RGB’s annual increases, which do not keep pace with inflation.

The owner’s motion was rejected by a vote of 7-2.

On Monday morning, Ehrlich and Smyth sent a letter to the chair, claiming members of the board had faced “inappropriate political pressure by state and city electeds.” Multiple sources said public members had been pressured to vote in favor of lower increases.

Davidson declined to comment on the letter and directed inquiries to a City Hall spokesperson, who did not return a request for comment. Public members Arpit Gupta and Alex Schwartz did not return a request for comment; public member Doug Apple declined to comment and public member Christine DeRosa could not be reached.

At the meeting, Ehrlich elaborated, claiming the board “is not reaching conclusions based on an honest assessment of the data.”

“Instead, the decision is based on fear, fear that has been caused by physical intimidation and personal attacks on members,” he said, referencing the political pressures mentioned in his letter.

“In short, the whole process has been compromised, and the integrity of this board’s actions should be called into question,” Ehrlich added.

The frustrations aired by both sides speak to a process that pits owners’ needs against those of tenants — a recipe ensuring no one goes home happy.

“The problem is it’s a binary choice,” said Jay Martin, who runs the landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program. 

“That choice is going to make people homeless or make these buildings insolvent,” he added.

But the impasse is nothing new, according to a quote by two tenant members who resigned in 1989, which Soltren read during his testimony. 

The RGB is “a charade, since they know what they’re going to do,” Soltren quoted.

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