Thousands of Brooklyn apartments threatened by expiring rent laws

With rent-regulated apartments under threat from soon-to-be-expired rent laws, Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling for an end to vacancy decontrol, and for stronger rent laws to protect the tenants of tens of thousands of rent-controlled units, including over 900 in Southwest Brooklyn, from being pushed out.

While the rent stabilization laws – which expire on June 15 – are likely to be renewed by the state legislature, supporters say they need serious reworking to keep affordable housing alive and well citywide.

“Unless we secure stronger rent laws in the next two weeks, these families will be the last to ever live in these apartments with affordable rents,” said the mayor. “Thousands of tenants are facing illegal harassment and eviction because there is so much money to be made by flipping a rent-stabilized apartment to market rate. We need to end vacancy decontrol and strengthen these laws to keep our neighborhoods affordable.”

Data from the city’s Housing Department show 110,000 rent-stabilized apartments are now on the brink of flipping to market rates – 24,156 of them in Brooklyn – because they are one “vacancy bonus” away from crossing the $2,500 a month rent threshold for deregulation.

According to the data provided to this newspaper by the mayor’s office, 513 rent-stabilized units (out of 17,736) are at risk in Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton, with 352 of 14,987 on the cusp in Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace.

More dramatically, 28 percent of rent-stabilized units in Northern Brooklyn nabes like Greenpoint and Williamsburg are at risk (6,327 of 22,433).

Meanwhile, areas like Red Hook, Park Slope, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill have it the worst, with 33 percent of rent-stabilized units (3,063 of 9,399) one “vacancy bonus” away from deregulation.

“It’s rather farcical that they have this thing every five years or so when the rent regulations come up for appeal or to be extended,” said Joe Toris, a 63-year-old currently living in a rent-controlled apartment. “We always go through this and it’s a little ridiculous. In my opinion, it’s real political cowardice in Albany that there’s no effort to deal with this seriously – and I mean seriously deal with it.”

Taken aback by some of the stats, Toris stressed that it’s about time the government does something that benefits the tenants but doesn’t leave landlords hanging high and dry.

“They should institutionalize, in my opinion, rent regulation in a way that’s fair and equitable to landlords being able to get some kind of profit on a yearly basis but also in a way that protects tenants, especially those who are very vulnerable,” he said. “If New York City was any other normal city, you wouldn’t even have rent regulation because supply would equal demand or supply would exceed demand, but that’s not the case here. Demand is so far ahead of supply here it’s ridiculous, so, unless you have a 10 percent vacancy rate, you have to have some kind of regulation – and, in my opinion, that regulation has to be fixed.”

James Kemmerer, a member of the Bay Ridge Democrats executive board, is also hoping these laws get the rejuvenation they deserve.

“Some politicians jump at the chance to give tax breaks to billionaire Manhattan real estate developers but ignore the day-to-day struggles of 36,000 families living in rent regulated apartments in their own backyard,” he said. “From retirees to young couples, Brooklyn families face an uphill battle being able to afford to stay in New York City. We know we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of affordable units all across the city. The question is when will we do something about it?”

The de Blasio administration is hoping that its answers resonate in Albany, where rent regulations need to be passed. Beyond advocating for changes in the current law, whereby any unoccupied apartment renting for $2,500 per month is eligible for deregulation, the city is pushing for the elimination of the 20 percent rent increase that kicks in when tenants move out. This, according to the mayor’s office, has “created strong incentives for bad actors to pressure tenants out of their homes in the hopes of faster-rising rents.”

In addition, the city wants to see costs arising from increased services or improvements to individual apartments spread over 10 years, with building-wide or system improvements spread over seven years, rather than becoming permanent additions to an apartment’s base rent, which the mayor’s office thinks should be reset after the fixed period.

Still, residents have their doubts that anything will change this time around.

“It’s tough enough for the mayor to get educational control so the thought of him gaining control over affordable housing, that in itself is unreal,” said Toris. “It’s an arbitrary, capricious system that they have [when it comes to rent regulations], and no one is satisfied with it.”

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