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De Blasio calls for rent freeze for NYC’s rent-stabilized tenants

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The city’s nearly 1 million rent-stabilized units may be subject to rent increases this year

Max Touhey

Amid calls for New York City to freeze or suspend rents for the duration of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the city will move forward with determining the hikes (or lack thereof) its nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments.

During a press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the Rent Guidelines Board’s review process, which determines annual rent increases for the 1 million stabilized apartments in the city, will proceed as normal, albeit remotely. However, he called on the RGB to enact a rent freeze instead of raising costs for New Yorkers.

“Look at the facts: The greatest economic crisis in generations, thousands of New Yorkers with no livelihood overnight,” de Blasio said during the press conference. “I think the facts are clear: We need that rent freeze, and we need it now.”

De Blasio said that the RGB would begin its process remotely and “quickly, in the coming weeks”; City Hall did not immediately return a request for comment on what the timeline for those meetings might look like.

Last year, the RGB voted to raise rents by 1.5 percent for one-year leases and 2.5 percent for two-year leases. A rent freeze would mean no increase for the period between 2020 and 2021. The decision would not affect the city’s nearly 1 million market-rate apartments, or those that are rent-controlled (a significantly smaller chunk).

The RGB bases its decision on a yearly review of the economic condition of the residential real estate industry in NYC. The review takes into consideration real estate costs like taxes and sewer and water rates; gross operating maintenance costs, including insurance rates, the costs of fuel and labor, and fees from the government; the rate and availability of financing; and the availability of housing accommodations and vacancy rates throughout the city. The RGB also bases its decision on data on the current and projected cost of living in the city.

During that same press conference, de Blasio also called on the state to change the current laws to allow tenants to use security deposits to pay their rent, if they’re experiencing economic hardship because of COVID-19. It’s a move that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has so far resisted, as he believes the state’s 90-day eviction moratorium has solved renters’ problems.

But other states are enacting similar measures: Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order that not only allows people to use security deposits to pay rent, but also gives tenants a 60-day grace period in which they can’t be charged late fees or interest for nonpayment of rent.