New York’s Rent Regulation Laws Expire

Sarah Laskow | June 16th, 2011

A tenement in the Lower East Side.

New York’s rent regulation laws have expired before. In 1997, the legislature did not pass a new version of the law until five days after the previous iteration had run its allotted course. As the deadline neared, tenant advocates and the media warned that landlords could bring burdensome rent increases down upon their tenants or evict them en masse. The Metropolitan Council on Housing provided tenants with a list of actions that would help them hang on to their apartments for as long as it would take for the rent laws to be re-enacted.

As of last night, at midnight, there is no active rent regulation law in New York State. If nothing changes, the system that has helped keep millions of New Yorkers in their homes during a decades-long housing shortage will end. Tenants and their advocates are protesting the legislature’s lack of action. But they are not freaking out. They know the legislature will renew the law, in some form.

Yesterday Gov. Cuomo said in a release that the session would not end until the legislature renews the law. The open question is what the law will look like when it passes. The Senate favors a simple re-up of the current law; the Assembly favors rent regulation reform, tweaks to the current system which strengthen renters’ protections and keep more apartments under regulation, for longer. Senators tend to agree more with the landlords’ argument that current protections are too strong and that rent regulation is keeping building revenues too low to keep up with growing costs.

At one point, lawmakers in Albany were considering packing rent regulation renewal into the budget. But the budget contained few controversial decisions, and an agreement on rent regulation was punted forward, to this, the last possible moment to take action.

Rent regulation laws are meant to be a response to a housing shortage. But the crunch for housing in New York has lasted longer than anyone imagined. Even when vacancy rates have gone up, they are still well below the threshold that ensures that a person living in New York can find a decent apartment to live in, at a reasonable price. Although tenant advocates point out that rent-regulated housing serves as affordable housing, creating affordable housing is not a goal of the rent regulation law. Its goal is to keep rental rates from shooting up so fast that apartments leap out of their tenants’ price range. It creates stability, not affordability.

In an ideal world, legislators might step back from rent regulation laws and consider how they might best address a long-term housing shortage. But it’s unlikely that even a modicum of legislative soul searching will happen while legislators are stuck in Albany, putting off their summer, while struggling with this beast of a law. They need a deal. They’ll get one. And in a few years, they’ll face the same problems, when whatever version of the law they come up with now runs its course.