Assemblywoman Maritza Davila: Assembly Acts to Protect Tenants

Assemblywoman Davila announced that the Assembly passed a bill to strengthen New York’s rent-regulation laws and improve New Yorkers’ access to affordable housing (A.7526). The bill extends current law – while enhancing protections for tenants in rent-regulated units – until June 15, 2019.

“New York is experiencing an affordable housing crisis, and too many families are struggling to pay ever-rising rents,” said Assemblywoman Davila. “By strengthening rent-regulation laws, we can maintain affordable housing options and make it possible for more families to stay in their homes.”

New Yorkers today expend too much of their hard-earned income on housing; in some cases at least half of a household’s income is spent on rent.1 That’s why rent-regulated housing is an important source of housing for middle- and low-income families, with New York City having approximately one million rent-regulated households. It’s not just the wealthy who live in New York City, but rather a mix of middle-class and working New Yorkers. These communities enrich our neighborhoods, support local small businesses and send their children to local schools – to say nothing of those who have lived here for generations, Assemblywoman Davila noted.

Stronger rent regulations are also needed to ensure that families and older adults are not priced out of their homes or their neighborhoods. Under current law, landlords can easily increase affordable rents to levels which overburden our families. Right now, landlords can remove a vacant apartment from rent stabilization when its rent exceeds $2,500. Incentives abound for landlords to oust tenants and focus their efforts on deregulating units. This bill works to ensure that affordability – not manipulation for profit – is the order of the day.

“New York City’s neighborhoods were built by working families and today’s senior citizens. However, skyrocketing rents are threatening to price these families out of their homes,” said Assemblywoman Davila. “We need to strengthen and enhance our rent laws so New York City remains a place that all families can call home – not just the wealthiest 1 percent.”

Protecting tenants

One of the legislation’s most important provisions will keep rents at an affordable level even if a current tenant moves. The bill would prevent apartments with monthly rents upward of $2,500 from becoming decontrolled upon vacancy, a threshold that has caused instances where a landlord has harassed a tenant or withheld services to force a tenant to vacate, noted Assemblywoman Davila.

Also, a landlord who harasses a tenant in order to get them to vacate a rent-regulated unit will face harsher punishments. The legislation adds a Class A misdemeanor crime of second-degree harassment of a rent-regulated tenant when a landlord intentionally impairs a unit’s habitability or creates a dangerous environment, and expands civil penalties for tenant harassment.

The Assembly bill also:

  • prospectively brings into rent regulation Mitchell-Lama buildings that voluntarily dissolve, regardless of its date of initial occupation;
  • prospectively extends rent and eviction protections to tenants living in former federal Section 8 projects and multiple dwellings that are covered by the New York City Rent Stabilization Law;
  • limits a landlord’s ability to recover multiple units for his or her own or their family’s primary residence by permitting recovery of only one unit and restricting that ability if a tenant has occupied an apartment for 15 or more years;
  • expands from 3 years to 6 years, the length of time a landlord must own a rental property before he or she is eligible for an alternative hardship rent adjustment;
  • allows units currently being illegally occupied to be brought into compliance with building and fire code under the provisions of the loft law; and
  • makes permanent provisions of the loft law that allow smaller units to be covered, reduces rent increases for making a unit comply with building and fire code, and allows review of buildings that may contain incompatible uses.

“For too long, powerful landlords have had the upper hand in New York’s rental market, and that has to change,” Assemblywoman Davila said. “It’s essential that we pass stronger and more effective protections for tenants.”

Keeping rents affordable

In an effort to keep rents from skyrocketing, the Assembly’s legislation caps how much a landlord can increase rents on apartments that become vacant at 7.5 percent, down from 20 percent.

Moreover, when rent-regulated units become vacant, landlords will often make improvements, such as installing new appliances. After an improvement is made, the landlord is permitted to add a percentage of the total cost of the work to a tenant’s rent. However, in many cases, tenants have been forced to continue paying for these improvements long after the costs have been recovered. Further, under current law, a landlord can simply claim that they made an improvement without ever having to prove the fact. The Assembly’s bill puts an end to this practice.

“Affordable housing is essential to the economic prosperity of our communities,” said Assemblywoman Davila. “This legislation focuses on protecting New Yorkers to ensure they have access to safe, affordable housing.”