Tenant Advocates Create Hostile Environment While Vowing for Rent Reform
On May 2nd, RSA, other industry leaders and various property owners made a case for responsible and fair changes to the State rent laws before the State Assembly Standing Committee on Housing at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.
At the hearing, which was led by Committee Chairman Steven Cymbrowitz, RSA President Joseph Strasburg led a panel that also included RSA Board Member Lennard Katz and Paimaan Lodhi from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). The Committee, which consists of numerous pro-tenant Assembly Members from throughout the five boroughs, was incredibly unreceptive to the panel who spoke about the potential dangers that could develop if the rent laws are radically reformed.
Mr. Strasburg detailed the importance of the existing rent laws, particularly major capital improvements (MCIs) and individual apartment improvements (IAIs), and how critical they are for owners when maintaining and improving their aging buildings. Although it would not happen overnight, Mr. Strasburg said that the City’s affordable housing stock would almost certainly fall into disrepair if owners are prevented from utilizing these vital programs. Mr. Strasburg made a comparison to NYCHA buildings, stating that disrepair at City public housing is a direct result of lack of funding needed to make necessary repairs at those buildings. If private owners are denied programs that allow them to make improvements and repairs at their buildings, it would certainly result in a similar situation.
Mr. Strasburg stated that rent-stabilized building owners are in dire need of a steady revenue stream in the midst of ever-increasing property taxes, water and sewer rates and other City and State-imposed mandates. He also mentioned that pro-tenant elected officials on the State and City level have created an unfriendly relationship between landlords and tenants and should instead focus on approving subsidy programs that aid low-income tenants that struggle with paying their rent.
Mr. Strasburg then detailed the proposed Tenant Rent Income Exemption (TRIE) program, which designed to mimic SCRIE and DRIE, would freeze the rents of all rent-regulated tenants who earn $50,000 or less and pay half of their income towards rent. Building owners would then be provided with tax abatements in order to offset the frozen rents. The proposed TRIE subsidy program had twice passed the State Senate unanimously in 2015 and 2016, but was deliberately ignored by the pro-tenant Democrats of the State Assembly, who pride themselves as being tenant advocates.
Several members of the Committee denied ever hearing of a proposed TRIE legislation even though many of them were co-sponsors of a similar bill proposed in the Assembly in 2015 by then-Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj. Some of these Assembly Members, including Assemblyman Charles Barron and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, criticized the proposal as another incentive for property owners and not a viable solution for low-income tenants.
Rather than engage in productive dialogue with Mr. Strasburg and the panel, the Assembly Members continued to downplay the facts laid out before them and chose to instead create a hostile environment inside the hearing room. Despite this, RSA continued to meet with various Assembly Members throughout the month of May to discuss responsible reforms to the rent laws.
To read Mr. Strasburg’s Testimony to the Assembly Housing Committee May 2, 2019. in full, CLICK HERE.