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Paying Rent

Report: Despite What Landlords Might Say, Rent-Stabilized Apartments Are Pretty Easy to Rent

As landlords attempt to get rid of rent-stabilization forever, a peek into how easy their jobs are.

3:51 PM EDT on August 21, 2023

Buildings in New York City. (Hell Gate)

As New York City rents continue to rise amid a housing shortage that state lawmakers can't be bothered to address, housing advocates and landlords have been waging a blistering battle over the dwindling stock of rent-stabilized apartments. 

In one corner, housing advocates accuse landlords of "warehousing" rent-stabilized units—leaving them empty instead of leasing them out. Maybe the landlords are waiting for the Supreme Court to overturn rent stabilization entirely, or perhaps they're looking to get as much "key money" from a prospective renter as possible, or maybe they just don't feel like renting it! Either way, the advocates say, the owners are creating scarcity to increase their profits and keep people out of homes.

Landlords, led by a trade association called the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), counter that many rent-stabilized apartments are in such poor condition that the costs of renovating a unit vastly outweigh their profits from stabilized rents. CHIP posts videos of decrepit rent-stabilized apartments in a PR campaign to essentially gut the rent-stabilization program altogether. 

To add even more confusion to this debate, no one seems to agree on exactly how many of the city's 1 million rent-stabilized apartments are being "warehoused." Last fall, the CITY reported on a state memo that found 60,000 of these apartments were vacant. CHIP then said that there were actually 20,000 apartments that are being warehoused. Later in 2022, City Limits published state data showing that there were around 40,000 vacant stabilized units. Curbed dove into all the confusion surrounding the numbers last month and walked away without a definitive answer, mostly because it's almost impossible to tell how many rent-stabilized apartments different landlords actually own.

Now, the City's Independent Budget Office has attempted to tackle the warehousing question. In a report released on Monday using the state's figures, the IBO found that the number of vacant rent-stabilized apartments skyrocketed during the pandemic to around 60,000. That number shot back down to 42,275 in 2021, as renters returned to the city and began scooping up affordable apartments. But overall, the IBO found that less than five percent of rent-stabilized apartments were left vacant at any time by landlords. 

Of the 60,000 vacant stabilized units in 2021, 64.3 percent were rented by 2022, with more apartments churning through tenants and vacancies. Crucially, the IBO found that the majority of vacant apartments find themselves occupied by a new tenant within the year. 

CHIP responded to the report by saying that the IBO's data wasn't current, and that vacancies were still on the rise. "The data lags. The registration filings lag. But the trend is clear and proves our argument," said CHIP's executive director Jay Martin.

CHIP would appear to be quibbling with the data because it doesn't quite fit their narrative—landlords, it turns out, aren't having much trouble at all finding tenants to rent stabilized apartments to. At the same time, it looks like New York City isn't sitting on a magical pot of stabilized apartments that will one day re-enter the market, meaning that New York's housing crunch, where thousands cannot afford ever-increasing unregulated rentals, shows no signs of abating.

So what IS happening with the more than 13,000 apartments that sit vacant for more than two consecutive years? I guess we'll maybe find out next year!

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