Landlords, fearing safety, request remote Rent Guidelines Board vote

Owner members claim Board Chair Nestor Davidson denied request

RGB Owner Members Request Remote Vote Amid Safety Concerns
Robert Ehrlich and Christina Smyth asking for virtual hearing vs. Board Chair Nestor Davidson with Robert Ehrlich and Christina Smyth (LinkedIn, Facebook, Lazarus Karp LLP)

Ahead of the Rent Guidelines Board’s annual vote tonight, members representing the city’s rent-stabilized landlords asked the board chair to move the meeting online.

They hoped to insulate themselves from protests “designed to intimidate members” and said the measure would be “in the interest of safety,” according to a letter penned by owner members Robert Ehrlich and Christina Smyth and reviewed by The Real Deal.

Board Chair Nestor Davidson refused, Ehrlich said.

Davidson did not comment on the exchange and instead directed the request for comment to City Hall. A City Hall spokesperson did not immediately respond.

The RGB’s website shows the final vote will still take place at Hunter College.

Tenant-owner tensions have escalated since the rent board departed from its pandemic-era rent freezes. Renters and their advocates claim any increase would be too much for low-income tenants to bear. Owners claim they cannot maintain their buildings or service their debt with the inflation-lagging adjustments the board historically approves.

Last year, tenant advocates and sympathizing electeds took their protests to the stage of the board’s preliminary vote, drowning out owner member Smyth and temporarily derailing the meeting to demand a rent rollback.

Chair Davidson later wrote Mayor Eric Adams expressing “strong concerns” around “public safety” given “the aggressive events,” and landlords boycotted a public meeting in June.

Ultimately, the board approved a 3 percent increase on one-year leases, which was greeted by chants and boos from tenant members at the 2023 final vote.

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Ehrlich tied landlord concerns around tonight’s vote to “pre-planned demonstrations,” noting Occupy Wall Street, a group associated with Antifa, according to its X account, would be there. Antifa is a movement of “anti-fascist” activists who believe using violence can be justified, according to the New York Times. 

Occupy Wall Street on Monday morning retweeted an X post by the Met Council on Housing tenant group, which asked tenants to RSVP to a gathering at the rent vote. Occupy Wall Street added the comment: “See you there tonight.” 

Andrea Shapiro, advocacy director for the Met Council on Housing, said the group expected 250 tenants from the coalition to attend the hearing. 

Tenant member Adan Soltren said he could “not speak with certainty about any other protests by either tenants or landlords at this time.”

But landlords say they have no intention of protesting, and have made it a point to steer clear of in-person RGB meetings.

Amid landlords’ boycott of last year’s public hearings, Ann Korchak, who leads landlord group the Small Property Owners of New York, said “the meetings have taken on a whole new level of vitriol.” Korchak relayed that landlords were often subject to verbal attacks, particularly when giving testimony.

“It’s intimidating,” said Jay Martin, head of owner group the Community Housing Improvement Program. “And what’s the benefit?”

“If they’re gonna make their decision based on who screams the loudest, landlords are never gonna win that argument,” Martin added.

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