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What Tenants Need to Know About NYC Rent Guidelines Board’s Latest Move

A row of buildings with rent stabilized units on Henry Street in the Lower East Side.
A row of buildings with rent stabilized units on Henry Street in the Lower East Side.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board voted to increase prices for rent-stabilized tenants at its final vote on Wednesday.

The move affects residents in nearly a million dwellings — or about 3 in 10 households in New York, the board’s research shows.

Here’s what you need to know about the changes and how they could affect your next lease:

How much is the increase and when does it kick in?

In an unusual move prompted by the pandemic, the board broke down leases monthly. For one-year leases, the board approved a 0% increase for the first six months of a lease and a 1.5% increase for the latter six months. It is the first time the group chose to split the one-year lease increase into two six-month time periods.

This goes into effect on Oct. 1. So, if you were to sign a new lease on that date, your rent should stay the same until April 1, 2022, and then could increase by 1.5% for the remainder of the lease’s term.

For a two-year lease, the increase is larger: a 2.5% bump for any tenant signing a new lease between Oct. 1 and Sept. 30, 2022.

How is this going to work? It sounds complicated …

It is.

Because the one-year leases are a combination of a six-month rent freeze, then six months of a rent increase, the board’s vote is probably going to confuse a lot of people — landlords and tenants alike, said Andrea Shapiro of the tenant advocacy group Met Council for Housing.

“They did a bifurcated one-year lease, which is the first time that’s ever happened,” she said. “I think it’s going to be really confusing.”

For larger landlords who automate their rent collection systems, she expects the change will probably go fairly smoothly. But altering the rent rate in the middle of the year may be tough for mom-and-pop owners and building managers, she said.

“They will overcharge people accidentally, or they’ll do a rent freeze for the year because it’s just too complex,” she said.

How can I make sure my landlord gives me the right price?

Tenants should be extra sure when they sign new leases that the six-month freeze is reflected, and that the 1.5% increase comes at the right time, Shapiro said.

Check the lease to see that the price for the first six months and the last six months are recorded correctly by your landlord. If they are not, correct it.

If your landlord is not complying with the rent rules, tenants can contact the Tenant Protection Unit at the Division of Housing and Community Renewal — the state agency charged with enforcing rent regulation laws — by calling 718-739-6400 or emailing tpuinfo@nyshcr.org.

During the worst of the pandemic last year, the board froze rents. Why increase them now?

The board made its decision to address two opposing viewpoints: tenants pushing for a rent freeze to give a break to the millions of people who have been hammered by the economic fallout of the pandemic — and landlords who say they also are struggling as expenses increase and rent collection falls.

The vote Wednesday was a compromise made “to provide additional time for economic recovery before any rent increase goes into effect,” said board member Alex Schwartz, a housing policy expert and professor at the New School.

Neither side is happy with the decision. Shapiro of the Met Council said it’s a “rent increase disguised as a rent freeze” made because the board and Mayor Bill de Blasio — who appointed all nine members of the RGB — “realized it was bad public optics to raise rents in a pandemic,” she said.

“They’re doing a rent increase and they have to accept that that’s what they’re doing. And their rent increase will lead to displacement and evictions,” she said.

Representatives of landlords across the city also panned the move.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 building owners, decried the vote as “incomprehensible.” He called on the next mayor to embrace the city’s “largest providers of affordable housing as the solution, not the problem — or else affordable rental housing will collapse.”

Wednesday’s rent regulation vote is the last one taken during the de Blasio administration. Traditionally, a new mayor appoints new board members after taking office in January.

Is there any way to get around the increases approved by the board this week?

If your landlord decides to increase your stabilized rent to the level the board sets, there’s normally no way to skirt the new rules approved by the RGB. (Other than having a friendly landlord willing to give you a break or at least negotiate)

But due to the pandemic, the state’s rent relief program offers an option: Those approved will get a one-year rent freeze that overrides the RGB’s increase, Shapiro said.

Applications for the program opened on June 1. THE CITY wrote a guide on how it works and how to apply here.

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