Outlandish rent hikes aren’t reserved for New York apartments, mom and pop shops, ballet schools, or Donald Trump’s campaign headquarters: they can happen for backyards, too. DNAinfo reports that huge rent hikes have hit Astoria residents who live underneath the Hell Gate Bridge and rent their backyard spaces from Amtrak. According to DNAinfo, "Families have leased the land underneath the structures for decades for a nominal fee. In exchange, they were required to clean and maintain the spaces." Residents have used such spaces for gardens, decks, swimming pools and the like.
But those nominal fees are jumping—big time. Earlier this month, Amtrak sent notices to at least six property owners asking for rent increases from $25 to $25,560 a year, and $50 to $45,000. Residents were given 30 days to accept the new leases; if they don’t they’ll have to give up their backyards, many of which the families have maintained for years.
Some residents thought the new rent was either a typo or a scam, but Amtrak has confirmed the jump, which the company decided after it found some lease holders hadn’t seen a price increase in over 70 years. Some residents rent their space out for parking, which may be a big part of the issue. Amtrak singled out "lease holders who are using the property for commercial purposes" in a statement, saying that "Amtrak is requesting rates equivalent to the commercial fair market value."
Those who use their space as a private backyard are fighting against the rent hikes with local pols. Officials called the hikes "a money grab" considering that residents have spent years keeping the spaces clean, and also deal with rocks, crumbling paint and debris that falls from the rail line onto their properties. Amtrak told DNAinfo that it plans to work with each individual resident to determine the exact terms of their lease.