After decades of rocketing living costs, the government of New York recently
passed legislation to shore up protections for renters. The law, known as
the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, codifies a range of
measures to stabilize rents and close loopholes that landlords have used to
skirt restrictions on their behavior.
An Overview of the Law
In the past, rent stabilization provisions would sunset every few years,
leading to Capitol clashes that landlords and developers usually won. The new
bill makes rent regulation a permanent part of the New York State housing code.
In addition, the Act addresses loopholes that landlords have long exploited
to raise rents on tenants. Under prior law, each time a rent-stabilized unit
changed hands, the owner was permitted to boost his or her asking price by 20%.
This “vacancy bonus,” which incentivized landlords to churn through
tenants, was one of the first schemes to go.
The bill also lowers the percentage by which landlords can increase rents for improvements. Some property owners had relied on unnecessary upgrades in order to raise prices and, by extension, force tenants from their apartments.
Lastly, owners can no longer remove blocks of units from rent stabilization
by claiming them for family use. The bill caps the number of family units at
one per building.
Does the Law Help New York Tenants?
In New York City, regulated rents are about 25%
lower than unregulated rents, so the bill should level the playing field
for working-class residents. That said, the Act has critics who feel that it
may do more harm than good.
Some fear that reduced capacity to raise rents will make it more difficult for landlords to obtain financing for necessary upgrades. Others see a direct connection between curbs on improvements and collapsing housing standards. Then, there are those who care about affordable housing but feel that rent control is the wrong way to achieve it. Soaring expenses are a struggle for landlords and tenants alike. A fair solution has been elusive. All eyes will be on New York to see if the answer lies not in deregulation but in bolstering tenants’ rights.