February 2, 2009

Assembly Approves Ten-Bill Legislative Package To
Preserve Affordable Housing And Protect
Tenants From Unfair Eviction

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, joined by Assembly Majority colleagues, addressed a press conference detailing a ten-bill legislative package to preserve affordable housing in New York City and raise penalties for tenant harassment. Silver said tenants should be secure in knowing that they would not be priced out of their apartments.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assembly Housing Committee Chair Vito J. Lopez today announced that the Assembly moved forward to stop the dramatic loss of available affordable housing in New York City and surrounding communities, by overwhelmingly passing a far-reaching legislative package to repeal vacancy decontrol laws, increase penalties for tenant harassment and revoke a statute that restricts New York City from strengthening its rent regulation laws.

"For more than a decade, I and my colleagues in the Assembly Majority have fought to protect tenants and make New York's rent laws stronger. When Governor Pataki and his colleagues in the old Senate Majority wanted to end New York's rent laws completely, we said no and we stopped them. Because of that one act we were able to protect more than a million rent-regulated apartments and we ensured the security of more than two-and-a-half million tenants living in New York City and its surrounding suburbs."

"Still, New York's broken rent laws have led to the loss of more than 300,000 rent- stabilized and rent-controlled apartments and fueled a rush to raise rents which has led to the widespread intimidation and harassment of tenants. Over the past decade we have watched as the rent laws fed rampant speculation in multi-family housing by investors bent on evicting residents and families from their apartments. Today we say that we cannot sit back as the lifeblood of our communities-teachers, firefighters, police and everyday working people-are priced out of where they live. Today the Assembly acted to finally fix New York's rent laws and make them stronger," said Silver (D-Manhattan).

"New York cannot continue to bleed affordable housing as it has in the past decade," said Lopez (D-Brooklyn). "The Assembly has heard the call of hardworking housing advocates and today we passed the important laws tenants need to keep them from being priced out of their apartments. Our legislation stands to preserve potentially thousands of tenants in rent-regulated apartments in the New York metropolitan area from excessive rent increases, harassment and intimidation from landlords. Today's legislative package protects working families and seniors. We will continue to listen to the voices of tenants, who are already facing tough economic times to ensure that housing remains available and affordable."

The Assembly housing package included ten bills that would strengthen rent regulation and protect working families.

In order to the halt the trend of runaway rents, the Assembly passed legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) that repeals vacancy decontrol laws that permit landlords to remove apartments from regulation by charging rents at or above $2000 per month (A.2005). The bill would also re-regulate thousands of New York City apartments that rent for less than $5000 per month.

"Passing vacancy decontrol legislation will restore much-needed units of affordable housing to the city and make it possible for middle class families to remain in New York," said Rosenthal. "In the midst of the worst economic downturn in decades, it is the responsibility of every elected official to protect affordable housing and remove incentives for landlords to evict regulated tenants from their apartments. The end of vacancy decontrol is a major win for preserving New York's diversity, which is its greatest strength."

The Assembly package included a bill to limit the amount a landlord could increase rent on a vacated apartment from 20 percent to 10 percent, preserving thousands of affordable units (A.1686/Lopez).

To correct a flawed rent regulation statute that has allowed thousands of apartments to become unregulated, Assemblymember Jonathan L. Bing (D-Manhattan) sponsored legislation adjusting the income decontrol thresholds to more accurately reflect economic realities and tie future increases to the rate of inflation in the New York metropolitan area, where housing costs have skyrocketed in recent years (A.860).

To preserve affordable housing in New York City, the Assembly housing package included a bill that would require that former federal Section 8 properties in New York City automatically be subject to rent regulation (A.1687/Lopez).

The Assembly passed legislation that would limit a landlord's ability to recover an apartment for personal use to one unit per property (A.1685/Lopez). The legislation also included stringent guidelines preventing a landlord from recovering an apartment rented by a long-term tenant or senior.

New York City would be empowered to preserve affordable housing units with the Assembly's passage of a bill to revoke the Urstadt Law (A.1688/Lopez). This legislation would help secure the nation's largest supply of rent-regulated apartments by permitting New York City to enact stronger regulations than those provided under state law. By revoking the Urstadt Law, New York City would gain tremendous local control to protect its affordable housing stock.

In order to safeguard tenants in Mitchell-Lama housing from paying exorbitant rents when the owners of these properties withdraw from the program, the Assembly passed legislation requiring rents to stay the same when these apartments are subjected to rent-stabilization guidelines (A.857/Bing).

"If we implement this policy as actual state law, we can ensure it stays in effect to protect Mitchell-Lama residents in buildings that are leaving the program. We must assure them that they will not face sudden and exorbitant rent increases," said Bing. "Additionally, we would not have to be concerned that a future governor could change the policy."

The Assembly approved a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Daniel O'Donnell (D-Manhattan) to extend the length of time over which major capital improvement (MCI) expenses may be recovered by landlords (A.1928). Additionally, the legislation would prohibit rent surcharges authorized for MCIs after the cost of the improvement has been recovered.

"Tenants should not continue to pay for capital improvements years after building owners recover the cost of necessary renovations," said O'Donnell. "With this legislation, we have a middle ground that gives landlords an incentive to make improvements on their property, while not excessively charging tenants in an already perilous housing market."

In order to protect tenants from the type of harassment that leads many to vacate their apartments, the Assembly passed a bill to increase civil penalties that the Division of Housing and Community Renewal could impose on landlords (A.2002/Silver). The bill would also stiffen penalties for landlords who violate DHCR rent-regulated housing codes.

The Assembly approved legislation by Assemblymember Hakeem S. Jeffries (D-Brooklyn) to protect tenants with preferential rental agreements from exorbitant rent increases upon the renewal of a lease (A.465).

"For more than a decade, rent-regulated tenants have been under assault, victimized by rising rents, abusive landlords and a housing market that skyrocketed out of control," said Jeffries "This assault includes landlords who lure tenants into renting an apartment by offering a lower, preferential rent, only to dramatically raise the rent a short time later upon lease renewal. The preferential rent reform bill will halt this practice, and make it easier for working families to keep their homes."

The legislative package will be referred to the Senate.

- 30 -

NOTE: Click here for a link to the Speaker Silver's policy paper on rent-regulation