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Paying Rent

As Lawmakers Gut Tenant Protections, Tenant Advocates Turn to Fighting to Defeat the Budget

A bad deal for tenants shows that they didn’t really have all that much leverage to begin with.

Tenants and advocates rally outside Governor Kathy Hochul’s midtown office on April 15, 2024. (Hell Gate)

Whatever leverage tenant groups and progressive lawmakers thought they had over a housing deal in the budget appears to have quickly evaporated, as the governor and leaders of the state legislature barrel ahead on a compromise that would give landlords and real estate developers huge tax giveaways and subsidies while gutting a crucial part of the 2019 reforms to rent stabilization. At the same time, a form of Good Cause Eviction appears to have been watered down to a shitty fun house mirror version, where very few tenants would benefit. 

On Monday, a small group of tenants gathered outside the Manhattan offices of Governor Kathy Hochul, to call out the imminent budget deal for putting rent-stabilized tenants once again in the crosshairs of landlords—specifically by allowing landlords to charge more in rent after making repairs, known as individual apartment improvements (IAI), to a vacant unit. After 2019, landlords were only allowed to recoup up to $15,000 in added rent for repairs, and rent increases were capped at less than $90 per month. The new deal would apparently raise the limit to $30,000 for all apartments, upping the annual increase as well—and for long-occupied apartments, the IAI limit would go up even more to $50,000 in repair costs, with a correspondingly bigger rent increase, putting tenants who have lived in an apartment for 25 years or longer at risk of landlord intimidation to move out. 

"I've been working all my life, raising my family. I live in a rent-stabilized apartment," said Johnny Rivera, a housing advocate from Harlem, at the rally. Rivera has lived in that apartment for about 23 years. "So in about two years, I guess I am a target," he noted.

Rivera talked about how difficult it has been to get his landlord to make repairs in his building; he's had to take his landlord to court just to get necessary work done. He sees the raising of the IAI cap as just another reason for landlords to ignore making repairs for existing tenants. 

"The landlord's sole purpose is to extract money from poor working-class people and make it worse," he said. 

Anne Greenberg, who has been a rent-stabilized tenant in Stuyvesant Town for 76 years, told Hell Gate that she's worried about the return to a previous era of tenant harassment. 

"You could see the ravages of the IAI system in the way that management changed its business model, literally chopped up apartments and called that improvements, raised rents so high you needed three incomes to afford it, people taking on roommates where you used to be able to afford it on two incomes," she told Hell Gate.  

In a factsheet released on Monday, the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonprofit research organization, said that the proposed changes would "change New York's housing market to resemble the 2019 market, when rent-stabilization rules were subject to numerous exceptions that allowed landlords to significantly increase rents."

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment about the upcoming budget deal. 

At the rally, chants of "no deal" rang out, as tenants vowed to try to defeat the budget, instead of continuing to try to bang out a compromise that would leave so many tenants once again vulnerable to landlord intimidation.  

Meanwhile, up in Albany, tenant groups staged a day of actions, trying to get legislators to back off of the imminent deal by staging sit-ins and attempting to enter rooms where legislators were holding meetings. 

At the Midtown rally, Eon Huntley and Claire Valdez, both candidates for State Assembly who have been endorsed by New York City's DSA chapter, said that if this deal is passed, it would illustrate just where legislators actually fall when it comes to protecting tenants. 

"It's a real 'which side are you on' moment," said Valdez. "We're going to take that information as we move forward with this fight. We're not going to stop here or just with this budget."

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