The Market

Albany may have just done way more to support rent stabilization than anyone realized

By Virginia K. Smith  | July 17, 2015 - 10:30AM

While tenant advocates were none too impressed with Albany's recent deal to extend current rent regulation laws by four years (and raise the threshold for when an apartment can be de-regulated from $2,500 to $2,700), the laws may come with stronger tenant protections than previously thought. And it all comes down to some particularities of the wording.

Armchair legal scholars, get ready to do some close reading: According to Gotham Gazette, the new regulations are written in such a way specifying that an apartment actually has to be rented under the $2,700 limit before it can be deregulated, as opposed to hitting that number — and then getting deregulated — over the course of rent hikes (and upgrades) that happen in between tenants. In other words, rents have to naturally rise to $2,700 in accordance with rent regulation guidelines—which, lest we forget, have currently set a freeze for stabilized one-year leases—while a tenant is in residence. This eliminates a significant loophole, in which rents can go up farther (and landlords can perform renovations to justify increased costs) in between tenants, a method often used to boost apartments out of stabilization.

Advocates are now seizing on this wording as a means of keeping stabilized apartments in the system for longer, while landlords, naturally, assume this has all just been a misunderstanding. "Our interpretation is a tenant has to be in place under that threshold before they could move to deregulate," a representative from Legal-Aid Society told the Gazette, adding, "I don't think this was unintended."

Counterpoint: "There are drafting inconsistencies throughout the bill," said a representative from the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord's group. "It is not pristine and clean as it has been in past years."

Currently, both sides are consulting lawyers about the implication of the law's wording and it's possible the whole thing could wind up in court, though as the Gazette points out, at this point, Governor Cuomo's probably not too keen on further damaging his popularity by rolling back any kind of protections for rent regulations. (The Legislature could also end up re-convening to address the issue, though this seems unlikely.) This is admittedly a pretty minor win for tenants in the scheme of things, but hey, we'll take good housing news where we can get it.


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