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The Fate of Rent Regulation

By Sarah Laskow
Monday, April 25th, 2011
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Rep. Adriano Espillat's Upper East Side district has the most rent regulated apartments in the city.

They’re out there. You’ll hear about them occasionally. You might even know one. They might be subletting from a sublettor, but they pay $1,000 for a one-bedroom on the Lower East Side. Or they’ve been in the place forever, a five-bedroom spread on the Upper West Side, and the rent is under $2,000.

These are the mythical folk who live in rent-regulated apartments. They pay what feels like next to nothing for roomy apartments blessed with perfect light and located in the most convenient of neighborhoods. In the next few months, we’re going to hear a lot about them.

Just before the legislature left Albany for a two-and-a-half week break, the Assembly passed a bill to renew and modify rent-regulation laws, which expire this coming June. The Senate now faces pressure to act on the legislation. It’s likely that rent regulation will get bundled with a property tax cap, which is related only insofar as the cap is also meant to make normal people’s lives more affordable. But renewing rent regulation ranks high on Rep. Sheldon Silver’s to-do list, and Sen. Dean Skelos has made passing a property tax cap a priority. Politically, the pairing makes sense.

But despite its political prominence, rent regulation is an issue that few legislators have a real stake in. It affects just a fraction of New York State residents and a much larger fraction (but still a minority!) of New York City apartment-dwellers. There are 51 municipalities across the state that have rent control, which keeps rent prices static, as long as the original owners or their heirs still reside in the property. But people move away or grow out of their apartments, and relatively few rent control apartments remain. New York City, for instance, has just 40,000.

Rent stabilized apartments, by contrast, exist only in New York City and in a few communities in counties just beyond the city limits. Apartments don’t lose their rent-stabilized status when someone moves out, and in New York City, 2.4 million people, about 30% of the population, lived in just under 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in 2008, according to the New York City Housing and Vacancy Survey.

The rent-stabilized apartments are spread across the city: 30% are in Manhattan, 27% in Brooklyn, 22% in the Bronx and 20% in Queens. Staten Island has only a few thousand. Rent-controlled apartments are more concentrated in Manhattan, which has 51% of them.

But some State Senate districts boast more rent-regulated apartments than others. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s old Upper West Side district, now represented by Adriano Espillat, has the most (78,700) of any in the city. Pedro Espada’s old Bronx district, now represented by Gustavo Rivera, has the 2nd most. Thomas Duane’s district, which covers the Upper West Side, Chelsea, and Greenwich Village, Bill Perkins’, in Harlem and further north, and Liz Kreuger’s, in the Upper East Side, round out the top five. These politicians have a particular interest in updating the law to favor tenants over landlords, but they have plenty of colleagues whose constituents aren’t affected one way or the other. For those people, it makes sense to pair rent regulations with property tax caps, a policy that will affect local governments across the state — the whole population, not just a lucky fraction.

  • Edward Maloney

    This is a gross sensationalized approach more worth of The Post instead of the balanced reportage we should expect from PBS. I would be ashamed of Sarah Laskow! First of all apartments do get removed from Stabilization at vacancy due to a major loophole instituted by the real estate lobby which allows them to self certify improvements to bring the rent over $2000, thus deregulating it. Something every landlord I have spoken with says they do automatically to help end rent regulation. Another thing she should point out is that MCI increases, essentially the cost of landlord upkeep of their private business property is added to tenants’ rents forever as compared to condo or co-op owners who pay one! She should also point out the blather and industry hype that regulation keeps rents artificially high –what a laugh. And also Paul Krugman’s ivory tower analysis of a free market when Manhattan is anything but a free market as it is largely controlled by real estate developers and empires regulation. Finally, your reporter should point out the absurdity and injustice of the Urstadt Laws (having the local rent laws administered by Albany, and the upstate easily bought and un-empathetic republicans, instead of their local governments –another ploy and stunt of the real estate industry. Finally, the industry constantly hides behind the “poor little struggling landlord,” who is their misleading poster child for the vast real estate fortunes. Maybe should ask why there is so much landlord welfare in so many ax breaks and “incentives.”

  • Catherine Smith

    Sarah Laskow seems to have a very fragmentary understanding of the rent control/rent stabilization matter. A parenthetical mention of the Urstadt Laws and home rule and to blithely pair rent control with tax caps speaks of ignorance and lack of depth of knowledge on the subject. A more historically accurate reportage would have mentioned the issue as a predictable political football, battering ram and bargaining chip in the annual political budgetary Punch and Judy
    Show in Albany and an even more predictable campaign issue for
    those up for reelection. What little remains of the middle class living in rent controlled or rent stabilized units are habitually held hostage for the duration of the budget games and the rent control games. Frankly,
    I expect better from PBS.