Tenants, landlords square off as NYC rent hikes could climb a staggering 15.75%

·4 min read

NEW YORK — Tenant advocates and landlords are stepping up the pressure ahead of a crucial preliminary vote next week by the Rent Guidelines Board — which has said it could potentially raise rates on two-year leases a staggering 15.75%.

A recent report detailed a range of possible rent hikes on the city’s one million rent-stabilized apartments. On the low end: 5.3% for one-year leases and 6.6% for two-year leases, versus 8.25% and 15.75% on the higher end.

The board is still zeroing in on a final number, but a final vote is not expected until June.

Last year the board approved the largest rent increases in nearly a decade in a 5-4 vote, raising rents 3.25% for one-year leases and 5% for two-year leases.

Tenants are arguing that even minimal rent increases could devastate residents already struggling to afford living costs, while landlords pushed for rent hikes due to higher operating expenses and rising inflation. Both sides testified at a public meeting Thursday.

Tenants are advocating for the board to freeze rents or even consider rollbacks. Chen Ren Ping, who testified Thursday on behalf of the Chinatown Tenants Union, spoke through an interpreter about his struggle to afford his rent, which is twice his income.

“If the rent is not reduced, life will be very, very difficult,” he told the board.

The potential hikes come as the city is facing an affordability crisis that has half of New York households struggling to pay for basic necessities, according to a study released this week.

Leah Goodridge, managing attorney for housing policy at Mobilization for Justice and formerly a member of the RGB under the de Blasio administration, told the board the city’s housing situation is at a “crossroads” and detailed the “eviction crisis” she has observed first-hand.

“One of the things that I can tell you with 100% certainty is that almost all of our tenants are in court not because of financial mismanagement, not because they couldn’t pull themselves up from the bootstraps, but because the rent is too high,” she said.

Landlord groups have in turn called for significant rent increases, citing higher taxes, expensive government mandates and the rising costs of fuel, insurance and building maintenance.

They also pointed to a recent report from the board that found that net operating income fell 9.1% for buildings with rent stabilized units between 2020 and 2021 while costs increased by just over 3%.

The nine-person board weighs a number of factors when determining possible rent hikes, including figures estimating how much rents might need to change in order for landlords’ net operating income to remain constant.

“New York City stabilized buildings are facing an insolvency crisis as a result of factors, each impactful on their own, but when taken together, as they are now, are devastating,” Michael Tobman, the membership and communications director for the landlord group the Rent Stabilization Association, testified Thursday. “The current reality of stabilized buildings is not enough income failing to cover ever-escalating costs in an unsteady economy.”

Joseph Condon, general counsel for the Community Housing Improvement Program, also testified on behalf of landlords. He told the Daily News the board would be particularly important for “highly stabilized” buildings, or those that are 80% stabilized or more.

“Because they are so highly regulated they see costs going up without any other mechanism other than the RGB guidelines to keep up with those operating costs,” he said.

Goodridge told The News she was “not optimistic” ahead of the board’s preliminary vote on Tuesday. While she thought it was unlikely they would vote for a higher increase closer to the much-hyped 15.75%, she said even half of that would be devastating for renters.

“Putting [the 15.75% number] out there is a very political move designed to normalize it in people’s mind that it could be 16%,” she said. “So then when it’s 10% or 5% or something that’s still extraordinarily high, people will have some sense of relief that it wasn’t as high as they thought that it could be.”