Before the pandemic shut down New York City, tenant activists and Democratic lawmakers planned to use the legislative session this spring to fight for some of the tenant protections that didn't make it into last year's reforms. That included a good cause eviction bill and re-regulating hundreds of thousands of destabilized apartments to increase the city's affordable housing inventory. The pandemic has disrupted those efforts.
Instead, state lawmakers are focusing on measures that can help tenants when they can't pay rent because of the coronavirus. Among those efforts is legislation that would cancel or forgive rents for affected New Yorkers. "It's all we can do to develop important policies that can get us through the immediacy of this problem," says State Senator Michael Gianaris, who is at the forefront of finding solutions for New York tenants.
In Albany, State Democrats recognize that something “has to be done about rent cancellation or forgiveness,” says Mike McKee of the activist group Tenants PAC. But he hasn't given up on tenant protections that were already on the agenda before the pandemic. “We are pushing them to cancel rent, and to pass other important bills including prohibition of evictions without good cause.”
Although not an issue for the legislature, a decision about who pays the broker fee was expected from the courts next month. Department of State guidance had led to confusion and ultimately a lawsuit about who pays this cost. The June court date will likely be pushed out.
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Rent forgiveness due to coronavirus
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There's been no executive order from Governor Cuomo offering rent forgiveness to New Yorkers. That's what prompted State Senator Gianaris to propose canceling or forgiving rents for those affected.
"The easiest answer would be for the federal government to step in with a stimulus package that specifically offers housing relief but while we continue to advocate for that, we have to be prepared to act on our own if necessary," Gianaris says.
Rent relief is complicated by the concerns of landlords that they, in turn, won't be able to meet their financial obligations whether that's mortgage payments, property taxes, or other expenses. "As a result, there may need to be additional across-the-board protections to prevent a larger crisis," says Garrett Derderian, founder and CEO of the new real estate analytics and data firm GS Data Services.
Gianaris says his bill does provide mortgage relief for landlords. "If this ends up in a legislative solution, it will be a more a comprehensive approach that provides an avenue to help homeowners as well," he says.
Good cause eviction bill
The good cause eviction bill was already on the agenda this year and seeks to prevent a tenant from being thrown out of their apartment unless there’s good cause, for example, they are acting illegally or refusing to pay rent at all.
For now, the eviction moratorium, in place through to June 20th, may well be extended. “Without an extension there could be a flood of eviction cases across the city, as two-thirds of the population rents their homes. This would cause an unprecedented housing crisis,” Derderian says.
While well-intentioned, good cause eviction worries some smaller landlords like Craig Roche. He says it "prevents owners from, for instance, moving into the second apartment in a two family, or kicking out a disruptive tenant, or vacating the place before trying to sell it."
Gianaris says it's too soon to tell what will happen to these proposals but points out, if there is relief for homeowners and landlords as a result of the pandemic and any rent forgiveness, "generally, there has been talk of conditioning that relief on certain good practices."
Returning deregulated apartments to the housing supply
Another issue activists were hoping to address this year was the re-regulation of some 300,000 to 450,000 deregulated apartments. These are rentals that have already cycled out of the rent-stabilization program. Reinstating them would increase the city's supply of affordable apartments. While affordable housing is more important than ever, the pandemic has shifted the agenda, making it unlikely this issue will get to the table any time soon.
A more equitable property tax
Real estate taxes play a significant part of the New York City economy and the city's "unrealistic reliance on property tax revenue," has been an ongoing problem for many years, Gianaris says.
Earlier in the year, a mayoral commission proposed major changes to make it more equitable for the city's homeowners. Now there are unprecedented budget problems in every level of government, making any attempt to address the property tax issue even more difficult.
"It's a complicated issue we were in the midst of evaluating and tackling before the pandemic hit, so I hope we will at some point be able to deal with that," Gianaris says.
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