The Fate of Rent Regulation

Sarah Laskow | April 25th, 2011

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.