Rents Frozen Again for One-Year Lease Renewals

City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal testifying in favor of a rent rollback at a Rent Guidelines Board hearing earlier in June. | RENT JUSTICE COALITION
City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal testifying in favor of a rent rollback at a Rent Guidelines Board hearing earlier in June. | RENT JUSTICE COALITION

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Despite calls for an unprecedented rent rollback, tenant activists hailed this week’s decision by the city’s Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents on one-year leases in rent-stabilized apartments.

“The Rent Guidelines Board’s decision to freeze rents this year demonstrates what we can accomplish when we raise our voices and stand up for tenants’ rights,” said Pilar DeJesus of the Rent Justice Coalition in a written statement. “Tenants from all over the city voiced their concerns and we are grateful to the Rent Guidelines Boards for listening. But we will continue the fight to repair years of exorbitant rent increases and to protect New York City’s affordable housing.”

The rent freeze, announced by the RGB on June 27, affects tenants in more than one million rent-stabilized apartments citywide, and follows a similar freeze in one-year lease rentals that the agency established last year. That freeze was the first in the RGB’s now 47-year history.

Rents on two-year leases are allowed to increase by two percent, according to the RGB’s action this week.

Ahead of the RGB’s vote on Monday evening, tenant advocates, including the Rent Justice Coalition, were joined by elected officials at a rally calling for a rollback in rents.

Noting that New York is losing rent-stabilized apartments “hand-over-fist,” Upper West Side City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal said, “When rents go over 30 percent of income, they are no longer affordable — and for most rent stabilized tenants, they are ‘rent burdened,’ leaving less money available to cover the cost of food, health care, and the basic necessities. A rent freeze, or better, a rent rollback, would allow tenants to stay in their home. I urge the RGB to consider a rent rollback for one- and two-year leases.”

West Side State Senator Brad Hoylman echoed the call for a rollback, stating, “I hear every day from hardworking families struggling to save for retirement, start college funds for their kids, or even put food on the table because of skyrocketing rents. One in three tenant households in the city spend more than half their income on rent, while the Rent Guidelines Board’s own statistics show landlords are raking in higher profits than ever before.”

West Side Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, facing a primary challenge the following day (which he easily surmounted), also joined in the call for rolling back rents.

Despite having staked out such an aggressive pro-tenant position, elected officials, like the Rent Justice Coalition itself, praised the RGB’s June 27 action.

“I’m grateful the Rent Guidelines Board recognized the plight of rent-stabilized tenants and granted a rent freeze for one-year leases for a second straight year,” Rosenthal said in a written statement. “I hope the RGB considers a rent rollback seriously next year.”

Ben Kallos, an East Side councilmember, said, “The Rent Guidelines Board has shown that last year’s rent freeze was more than a symbolic gesture, and tenants have the power to be heard. We will continue to fight to make up for years of too-high rent increases. Thank you to the many tenants who came out to tell their stories and the Rent Justice Coalition for their advocacy.”

Kallos’ East Side colleague, Dan Garodnick, in a written statement, said, “There was ample evidence for the Rent Guidelines Board to deliver not only a freeze, but a roll-back for tenants this year. That said, I hope this signals the end of the era where landlords got enormous increases year after year, and where tenants never caught a break.”

Councilmember Corey Johnson, who represents the West Side, also praised the rent freeze, even while noting that a rollback would have been preferable.

“I applaud the Rent Guidelines Board for instituting a rent freeze for over a million rent-stabilized tenants for the second year in a row,” he said. “Last year’s rent freeze was the first of its kind. Extending it for another year is an equally historic sign that our city will stick up for hardworking New Yorkers in the face of an unprecedented housing crisis. Despite our strong efforts for a rent rollback, this decision is nonetheless a victory for New Yorkers who have faced persistent rent increases for decades until just last year.”

Not surprisingly, the Rent Stabilization Association of NYC, a trade association representing residential property owners and agents, denounced the RGB action and announced plans to file a lawsuit against the agency.

“The RGB continues to implement Mayor Bill de Blasio’s political agenda, targeting apartment building owners,” the group said in a written statement. “As a result, RSA is prepared to fight these unjust and unlawful rent guidelines in the courts.”

In comments on NY1, de Blasio, who is responsible for appointments to the RGB, praised the agency’s second consecutive freeze on one-year rents.

“The Rent Guidelines Board did the right thing. You know, for over a million-and-a-half New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized apartments this is very good news,” he said. “And the Rent Guidelines Board went by the numbers — and what the numbers showed was, you know, the price of fuel had been way down over the last year. There was not a reason for a rent increase for a one-year lease… This was about being fair to tenants and going by the facts, going by the numbers.”

The new rent guidelines affect more than 1.6 million New Yorkers whose leases come up for renewal beginning on October 1. In his comments to NY1, the mayor noted that since “you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future… if you lock in, you know, two years at two percent, you have a guarantee.”