The public hearings that define whether to freeze, increase, or rollback rents for New York City’s nearly one million rent stabilized apartments will kick off on April 23, albeit online (like most other city meetings), due to COVID-19.
And this week, the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) published their yearly Income and Expense report that analyzes the cost of operating the city’s rent stabilized units in 2018 (the most recent data set available, the report says). According to the analysis, landlord’s Net Operating Income—the revenue remaining after paying for operating expenses—declined 0.6 percent between 2017 and 2018: The first decline since the period between 2002 and 2003. Operating costs increased an average of 5.8 percent as well, the report shows.
Based on those findings, landlord representatives have already begun calling for rent increases. “The RGB data proves that it is time to return to adequate rent increases, not politically motivated rent freezes directed by the mayor,” Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), an organization that represents 25,000 landlords, said in a statement.
“The RGB cannot deny that rent-stabilized building owners are once again being forced to do more with less,” Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) Executive Director Jay Martin, noted in a statement. “They cannot continue on the path of making it outrageously expensive to provide housing, and then claim owners are in the wrong to ask for equitable increases to cover growing costs.”
Meanwhile, the report shows that rental income did increase an average of 3.7 percent as well as total income, which increased an average of 3.6 percent.
The report does acknowledge, however, in its first page, that “due to the as-yet-unknown full impact of the COVID-19 virus, it does not reflect the current economic condition of the New York City rental market and should not be interpreted as such.”
But, given the current situation tenants are facing, with many suffering financial hardships due to the pandemic, advocates are digging in their heels for a fight over a rent freeze.
The Rent Justice Coalition, a group of organizations advocating for tenants, had already called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to cancel the RGB hearings due to the pandemic and for a rent freeze for rent-regulated tenants.
“With at least 2.5 million rent stabilized tenants across the city, even the possibility of a rent increase as a result of remote proceedings could result in mass housing court evictions cases and displacement in communities across NYC once the historic eviction moratorium is lifted,” a statement from the Rent Justice Coalition reads.
“[The RGB report] provides further evidence that a rent freeze is warranted,” Robert Desir, staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society said in a statement. “While owners have seen increases in rental and total income, tenants who are already on the margins due to stagnant wages and increasingly unaffordable housing, now face the additional burden of a historic unemployment crisis.”
Last year, the Rent Guidelines Board voted to increase rents by 1.5 percent for one-year leases and 2.5 percent for two-year leases—it was the third year in a row the board decided on increases.