NYC's Controversial New Rent Measures Could Spread To The Rest Of The State

Jun 19, 2019
Originally published on June 20, 2019 3:06 pm

Carla Johnson has been evicted from nine apartments in the past four years. All she did, she says, was complain about things like a gas leak, mold or a missing security gate.

"It's cheaper for the landlord to put you out and move someone else in that doesn't know about the problem," she says.

She lives in Newburgh, N.Y., a former industrial town on the Hudson River about two hours north of Manhattan. She says most apartment owners in Newburgh do the bare minimum to maintain a unit, and if tenants complain, they get evicted.

But new tenant protections may be on the way.

After Democrats took control of the state Senate in 2018, New York passed sweeping new rent laws that closed loopholes, cemented rent control permanently into law and extended the laws beyond just New York City.

Now cities such as Buffalo and Rochester, after meeting certain conditions, can declare a housing emergency and opt in to the new rules. Johnson says places like Newburgh need these basic protections.

"There's people living in mold. There's people being locked out. There's people being evicted."

Some housing advocates have said they have goosebumps at the idea of launching campaigns all across the state to get local towns to adopt the new rules.

"The right to make sure repairs are done, or at least having the comfort to make a complaint," says Juanita Lewis, who is an organizer for an advocacy group called Community Voices Heard.

Lewis says basic protections — like the right to a lease and advance notice of rent increases — can be extended to new places.

"Whereas right now, Newburgh doesn't have any of those things."

But as New York joins Oregon in trying to solve the housing affordability issue, landlords say the laws will shrink the market of affordable housing.

"The trend is spreading to not just the coasts, but more and more states. Colorado had a bill introduced this session," says Alex Rossello, policy analyst for the National Apartment Association, which represents landlords. "I would predict that Washington will be the next place where we'll see this type of policy introduced."

Landlords John Boubaris (from left), Richard Fiore and Michael Acevedo stand in front of one of many tax-seized properties in Newburgh. They say taxes and damage from tenants already make it difficult to own property, let alone the new laws.
Charles Lane / WSHU

Rossello — and many economists — argue that these laws do the opposite of what proponents want and actually make housing less affordable by reducing the supply.

That's what some landlords in Newburgh, like Michael Acevedo, predict will happen. "You go into business to make money, right? I don't do it for my health. I do it to pay my bills," Acevedo says.

"It's time to go," says Acevedo, who is president of the Orange County Landlord Association. "How am I going to survive?"

He blames tenants, not landlords, for the poor quality of Newburgh's apartments.

"Tenants kept wrecking it. I kept going in and fixing it. Finally, the mortgage and taxes were more money than I can rent it for."

And studies do suggest that closing the loopholes only helps wealthy renters. Overall, the research says rent laws tend to shrink the number of regulated apartments, as landlords convert units to condos, pay tenants to leave or don't build any new housing.

One analysis done in San Francisco found the number of rent-controlled units had dropped by 25% and the total supply of apartments decreased by 5%, increasing prices by 5%.

Even though much of the research shows rent control doesn't help most tenants in the long run, advocates say at least current tenants are protected. As tenant advocates work to spread these new protections across the state, a coalition of landlord groups is likely to lobby cities to not adopt the new rules.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

That Holy Grail of New York housing rent control could be spreading beyond New York City. New York state has signed sweeping new rent laws that could extend protections throughout the state. Cities such as Buffalo and Rochester can opt in to the new rules helping protect their renters. Landlords call it a dangerous precedent that will shrink the market of affordable housing. Charles Lane of member station WSHU reports.

CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: The Upper West Side fairy tale of a rent-controlled apartment could be moving north to Newburgh.

CARLA JOHNSON: There's people living in bedbug city. There's people that's living in mold. There's people that's being locked out. There's people being evicted.

LANE: Carla Johnson is showing off all the places she's been evicted from in Newburgh, a former industrial town on the Hudson River two hours north of Manhattan. She says most apartment owners in Newburgh do the bare minimum to maintain a unit. If tenants complain, they get evicted.

JOHNSON: It's cheaper for the landlord to put you out and move someone else in that doesn't know about the problem.

LANE: But new tenant protections may be on the way for cities that embrace the new rules. After Democrats took control of the state Senate, they were able to tweak and expand a law that only applied to New York City. They closed a number of loopholes allowing landlords to deregulate apartments. But renters outside the city want their officials to adopt these new protections, too. Juanita Lewis is an organizer for the group Community Voices Heard. She's excited to see these new rules possibly spread to other cities in New York state.

JUANITA LEWIS: There's the, you know, right to make sure repairs are done or at least being able to have some comfort in making a complaint to, like, buildings and codes and not feeling like you're about to be retaliated against. The rent increases wouldn't be as much, whereas right now, Newburgh doesn't have any of those things.

LANE: Alex Rossello follows rent laws around the country for the National Apartment Association, which represents landlords. He says New York now joins Oregon in trying to solve a housing affordability issue.

ALEX ROSSELLO: The trend is spreading to not just the coasts but more and more states. I mean, Colorado had a bill introduced this session. I would predict that Washington will be the next place where you will see this type of policy introduced.

LANE: Rossello and many economists argue that these type of laws do the opposite of what proponents want, actually making housing less affordable by reducing the supply. In Newburgh, some landlords have an immediate response to the new laws.

MICHAEL ACEVEDO: It's time to go. It's time to go. How am I going to survive?

LANE: Michael Acevedo heads the Orange County Landlord Association. He blames tenants, not landlords, for the poor living conditions.

ACEVEDO: The tenants kept wrecking it. I kept going in and fixing it. Finally the mortgage and the taxes were more money than I can rent it for.

LANE: Studies suggest that closing the loopholes and protecting pricey $3,000-a-month apartments only helps wealthy renters. They show overall rent laws tend to shrink the number of regulated apartments as landlords find new loopholes to deregulate them.

ACEVEDO: I mean, you know, you go into business to make money, right? I don't do it for my health. I do it to pay my bills and send my kids to college, you know, whatever.

LANE: Even though much of the research shows that rent control doesn't help most tenants in the long run, advocates say at least current tenants are protected. As tenant advocates work to spread these new protections across the state, a coalition of landlord groups will likely lobby cities not to adopt the new rules. For NPR News, I'm Charles Lane. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.