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New York’s ‘historic,’ pro-tenant rent reforms pass with Cuomo’s approval

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The state legislature’s new Democratic majority pushed through landmark tenant protections


It’s official: Tenants of rent-regulated apartments across New York state will soon benefit from new protections thanks to the passage of a landmark bill reforming the state’s rent laws—one that the real estate industry has arduously fought.

The bill, known as the Housing Stability And Tenant Protections Act of 2019, will not only strengthen some of the laws that are already on the books, but also extend them to even more rent-burdened tenants across the state—and codify them permanently, rather than having the laws sunset every few years.

It passed both the state Senate (with a 36-26 vote) and the Assembly (who voted 95-42) on Friday afternoon, and was delivered shortly thereafter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wasted no time signing the new protections into law.

“At the beginning of this legislative session, I called for the most sweeping, aggressive tenant protections in state history,” Cuomo said in a statement. “I’m confident the measure passed today is the strongest possible set of reforms that the Legislature was able to pass and are a major step forward for tenants across New York … I know full well the importance of affordable housing and with the existing rent laws set to expire tomorrow, I have immediately signed this bill into law—avoiding the chaos and uncertainty that a lapse in these protections would have caused for millions of New Yorkers.”

The bill includes many of the protections that tenant advocates have pushed for under the banner of “universal rent control,” including ending high-rent vacancy deregulation, narrowing the preferential rent loophole, and putting more protections against unnecessary major capital improvements (MCIs) and individudual apartment improvements (IAI) in place.

Lawmakers have also created an avenue for other locales in New York state to opt in to the rent regulation program—it currently only applies to NYC, along with Westchester, Rockland, and Nassau counties—provided they meet certain vacancy thresholds. And (phew) the bill includes a provision limiting the amount that real estate brokers can take for security deposits.

“Rent stabilization is a lifeline to millions of tenants in New York City, but this lifeline has been under attack for decades, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units,” state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, one of the bill’s proponents, told Curbed earlier today. “With this bill, we finally put power back in the hands of tenants not only in New York City but across the whole state and take a step toward housing justice for all New Yorkers.

But it didn’t go as far as some tenants’ rights advocates had hoped: Instead of eliminating the 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. It also does not include a “good cause” provision.

Landlord groups, meanwhile, have vowed to fight the legislation, which one developer told Curbed is “punishing landlords 101.” The Commercial Observer reported that industry groups will try to challenge some elements of the bill—including the provision making its reforms permanent—in court, and could file a lawsuit as early as Monday.

Groups like the Real Estate Board of New York have cautioned that the legislation may lead to the loss of even more affordable housing in New York City. “When we don’t strike a balance that protects rents and also allows regulated buildings to generate enough revenue to pay for their maintenance, it’s the tenants and our communities who ultimately suffer because of it,” Rafael Cestero, the president and CEO of the Community Preservation Corporation, told Curbed.