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Wealthy, older Manhattanites benefit most from rent regulation: report

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More affluent renters of regulated apartments received bigger discounts from market rate rent, a Wall Street Journal analysis found

Max Touhey

A new analysis by the Wall Street Journal finds that New York’s rent regulation laws affect wealthy, white residents of Manhattan more favorably than the city’s low-income tenants. The analysis comes days before New York’s rent regulation laws were set to expire, and hours after lawmakers in Albany reportedly reached an agreement to strengthen and extend rent regulation laws throughout the state.

Using U.S. Census Bureau data, the Journal found that renters of rent-regulated apartments on Manhattan’s Upper West Side typically pay about $2,000 less per month than market rate rents, with renters of regulated apartments in other Manhattan neighborhoods typically paying about $1,000 less per month.

In Manhattan, median regulated rents are 53 percent lower than median market rate rents. The Journal notes that many renters in the borough, particularly those who are 65 and older and haven’t moved in decades, have lower median regulated rents owing to some protections put in place through rent regulation laws, and therefore have a larger discount from market rate rents that helps create the large disparity.

That percentage difference between median regulated and market rate rent is much lower in the outer boroughs: 8.6 percent in Queens, 13.5 percent in the Bronx, and 16.7 percent in Brooklyn.

Further analysis of the Census Bureau’s Housing and Vacancy survey, conducted in 2017, found that more affluent renters of regulated apartments received bigger discounts from market rate rent, with the top 25 percent of earners in New York paying about $1,650 for rent regulated apartments, versus $2,700 for the median market rate apartment—a 39 percent discount.

On top of that, white renters secured a larger discount from market rates than any other race group, at 36 percent. By comparison, Hispanic renters saw a 17 percent discount from market rates and black renters a 16 percent discount.

State Senator Liz Kruger, who reps parts of the Upper East Side, Midtown East, and Flatiron, says the effects of rent regulation go beyond the monthly rent check. “Rent regulation is not only about the dollar amount charged,” she told the Journal, “It is about the stability of housing and your ability to stay in it.”

Housing stability was a major focus of the rent regulation agreement reached in Albany this week. Curbed’s Amy Plitt writes:

The agreement includes many of the protections that tenant advocates have pushed for under the banner of ‘universal rent control,’ though it did not go quite as far as some activists may have hoped. Instead of eliminating the major capital improvements (MCI) loophole, the bill calls for reforming it so landlords who make major renovations can raise rents by 2 percent (rather than 6 percent as before), and narrowing the scope of what constitutes an MCI.

The agreement also includes legislation that will prevent landlords from using the preferential rent loophole to drastically increase rents when a tenant renews their lease, and end high-rent vacancy deregulation and the 20 percent “vacancy bonus” landlords can use to bump rents when there’s tenant turnover.

Real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller says the proposed law awaiting Cuomo’s signature “will be a sea-change for multi-family real estate in New York,” with a potential byproduct of the law being a jump in rental to co-op conversions (made more difficult by a contingency that would require 51 percent of tenants to agree to a conversion, up from 15 percent.)

Miller continues: “This insures that insiders will be given significant discounts from market price to ensure conversion. This might result in fewer affordable rental apartments, but more cheaper co-op apartments.”