It has finally happened. After years of campaigning for a rent freeze, tenant advocates got what they wanted last night. For the first time in its 46-year history, the Rent Guidelines Board voted 7-to-2 to approved a rent freeze for one-year leases. This means that one-year rent-stabilized leases starting on or after October 1, 2015, can not increase. At all. Not even a tiny little bit. Rents on two-year leases will be able to increase 2 percent, which is a historic low. This is the second year in a row that the board has voted in favor of tenants; last year, they approved the lowest ever increases. The freeze has been expected for a few months now, even though Mayor Bill de Blasio did not explicitly call for it, like he did last year.
Tenant groups and local officials praised the decision. In a statement, the mayor said, "This was the right call. For the first time in the history of the Rent Guidelines Board, more than a million hardworking and hard-pressed tenants will see no increase in their rent. I applaud the Rent Guidelines Board for making tonight's decision based on hard data, including the unprecedented 21 percent drop in fuel costs over this past year. We know tenants have been forced to make painful choices that pitted ever-rising rent against necessities like groceries, childcare and medical bills. Today's decision means relief."
The lower fuel costs led to a very low increase for landlord's operating costs. The Times reports costs rose for the last nine years, but a study by the Rent Guidelines Board found that last year, costs only went up 0.5 percent.
But Joseph Strasburg, president of the landlord group the Rent Stabilization Association, still called the vote an "unconscionable, politically driven decision." He said, "A rent freeze on the surface may sound pro-tenant, but the reality is landlords will now have to forgo repairing, maintaining and preserving their apartments, which will trigger the deterioration of quality, affordable housing de Blasio pretends to care about."
The executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a group that works with small landlords, also spoke out against the vote. According to the Journal, he said, "Today's decision places unrealistic expectations on building owners to subsidize affordable housing on their backs, despite the city's lack of maintaining control on costs on owners at every turn."
The vote comes less than a week after the State legislature decided to extend, but not strengthen the rent regulation laws. The only change is that the threshold at which apartments can be deregulated was upped from $2,500 to $2,700. Last night, the meeting was a circus, as usual, but this year, the tenants had a new chant: "Cuomo betrayed us, the RGB can save us."
· New York City Board Votes to Freeze Regulated Rents on One-Year Leases [NYT]
· New York City Rent Guidelines Board Votes to Freeze Rents [WSJ]
· For the First Time Ever, City Board Approves Rent Freeze [Capital]
· Rents Probably Won't Go Up At All for Some Lucky Tenants [Curbed]
· All Rent Guidelines Board coverage [Curbed]