Opinion: Rent Freeze Is No Excuse For Landlords To Make Threats

Opinion: Rent Freeze Is No Excuse For Landlords To Make Threats

July 10, 2015

The Rent Stabilization Association and the landlords they represent should stick to facts and the law instead of promoting illegal and malicious threats. In an article published Wednesday by City & State, the association’s president, Mr. Jack Freund, said that freezing rent in the face of rising building costs is “not a practical way to run buildings.” Considering, however, that the price index of operating costs is lower than it’s been in over 10 years, and that landlords have enjoyed rent increases for the past five decades, this is a willful and transparent mischaracterization of our present situation.

The Rent Guidelines Board has always been entrusted to make rent-related decisions based on factual data, first by determining if a rent hike is justified, and if so, how much of an increase is warranted. Since its inception, the board has always gone straight to the second question. This year, the RGB grappled with the first question and decided—based on data showing sustained profits—not to boost landlords’ profits any further at the expense of our city’s affordable housing stock. Any other decision simply would have been, in his words, "not a practical way to run a city."

Wednesday’s article set a grim tone. This is justified; the housing climate in New York City is certainly dire—just not for landlords. In the past 10 years, our city has lost far too many rent-regulated apartments due to steady rent increases. Albany recently enacted detrimental rent laws that could eliminate approximately 90,000 affordable housing units due to deregulation over the next four years—units that do not just provide an affordable price point for tenants, but offer protections against arbitrary evictions as well. Separately, due to Albany's inability to close unresolved loopholes with preferential rent, approximately 27 percent of tenants could see their rent go up by thousands of dollars, regardless of the RGB’s decision to freeze rent and without advance notice.

In the face of these deplorable legislative missteps, however, there are some signs of hope. The City of New York is determined to provide relief for its residents, and with the goal of building and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing by 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council aim to stand by this plan to improve affordability for all.

New Yorkers deserve more affordable housing and legislative initiatives that would allow them to stay in rent-stabilized apartments. There are sensible and obvious ways that we can do this. For example, the Urstadt Law, which allows upstate legislators to determine New York City rents, should be repealed. Landlords would benefit from this as well. The current system lumps all landlords—both good and bad actors, small and large—into one category, making it impossible to separate those that put their tenants in harm's way to turn a profit from those that would legitimately struggle with operating costs under a rent freeze. If city government controlled our housing laws at the local level, sensible solutions for both landlords and tenants could easily be negotiated. Landlords should be able to earn a profit, but that profit should be balanced against the expenses tenants face when struggling to keep a roof over their families' heads.

It is also important to note that if any landlord finds that the cost of building maintenance exceed the amount of money that they glean from rent, they can apply for a hardship. I would be happy to support such an owner who legitimately needs a hardship determination.

Landlords, by law, are required to make repairs that ensure their buildings are safe, fully functional and up to code. It is not conditional on rent payment, and definitely not conditional on decisions made by the RGB. Reluctance on the part of some selfish landlords to fix and maintain their units is nothing new. Many, including some in the Rent Stabilization Association, are listed as the worst landlords in New York City. The RSA should not use this rent freeze to condone their behavior. Instead, it is my hope that the RSA highlights the majority of owners who have always done the right thing by their tenants, and I hope they continue. Mr. Freund should also remind his members about the requirements of the law, rather than tossing around frivolous and false scare tactics. 

If the RSA needs assistance, rest assured that the elected officials in this city are here to help ensure that their message is heard across the five boroughs.

New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams represents the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands, parts of Midwood and Canarsie, and is chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings.

Jumaane Williams