Landlords sue to stop Kingston rent stabilization
Lawsuit cites flaws in vacancy survey as tenants call for rent reduction
Three months after Kingston made history as the first upstate locality to pass rent stabilization, landlords have sued to snuff out the policy.
The Hudson Valley Property Owners Association filed a petition Thursday claiming the Kingston City Council relied on flawed data to gin up a vacancy rate low enough to allow rent stabilization.
Enacted in 1974, New York’s Emergency Tenant Protection Act ushered in rent regulation in New York City. The 2019 rent law allowed any New York municipality to do the same.
To regulate rents, a city must do a vacancy survey of its rental stock. If the vacancy rate is below 5 percent, the government can declare a housing emergency and appoint a board to control rent increases.
Kingston’s survey yielded a 1.57 percent vacancy rate, well under the threshold. But apartment building owners called that artificially low.
The suit alleges less than one-third of Kingston property owners answered the survey, producing just 19 responses. The landlord association says the city reached out solely through snail mail and didn’t push for responses from owners who did not initially answer.
“The city survey was a goals-oriented exercise in creative accounting,” the suit reads. “The goal, of course, was to find a way to declare a housing emergency to opt into rent stabilization.”
The landlord group conducted its own analysis, sending mailings to the same addresses but also knocking on doors to get a 100 percent response rate, the suit claims.
The vacancy rate the landlords came up with was 6.22 percent — above the housing emergency threshold.
To back up that finding, the group cites data from surveys by a consulting agency and the Census Bureau that found vacancy rates of 6.7 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
However, both polls were from 2020, during the height of the pandemic.
The landlord group wants the court to annul the city’s determination of a housing emergency and stop any rent regulation until the case is decided. Specifically, it asks that the court ban the city of Kingston, its rent guidelines board and the state housing agency from taking any further steps to enforce rent stabilization.
The landlords argue that the court can enact a writ of prohibition — a judicial order that prevents an administrative board from acting outside of its jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the city’s tenants are pushing for the rent guidelines board to greenlight a rent rollback, which would be the first in the state.
State law mandates that rent boards vote on adjustments, making a reduction possible.
An activity group called For the Many justified the requested rent cut by pointing to “unjust” hikes Kingston tenants have experienced at the hands of “greedy landlords.” The group cited increases of 20 percent at one city building.
Those bumps jibe with what many renters experienced nationally this year as property owners hiked rents back to or above the discounted levels common during the first year-plus of the pandemic.
Throughout Covid, tenant advocates in New York City have pushed for rent rollbacks, advocating for as much as a 5 percent cut of regulated rents. The closest they’ve come is a one-year freeze.
For the Many claims that both of the Kingston board’s tenant members support a reduction. A third member is a staffer with the activist group.
The board has nine members, including two representatives for landlords, two for tenants and five for the public.
Kingston’s rent vote is set for Nov. 9.