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New State Numbers Show Slide in Vacant Rent-Stabilized Apartments

Housing officials say that landlords registered 38,000 vacant units so far this year, down from the 60,000 reported in 2021. Landlords are still pressing for an end to restrictions they say keep apartments offline.

SHARE New State Numbers Show Slide in Vacant Rent-Stabilized Apartments

Chelsea tenants protested apartment vacancies last month.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

So far this year, landlords have registered 38,000 vacant rent-stabilized apartments with New York’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal — down from more than 60,000 in 2021 — according to numbers from the state housing agency shared with THE CITY.

HCR spokesperson Brian Butry asserted that the number of empty apartments is no longer unusually high.

“Current registrations reflect a rent-stabilized vacancy count back down to 38,000, which is historically consistent with vacancies in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020,” Butry said. “We will continue to explore strategies with our partners on how to bring vacant rent-stabilized apartments back to market as quickly as possible.” 

HCR originally reported that 60,000 units were vacant in 2021, following an increase of 20,000 units between 2020 and 2021, and now calls 2021 a “pandemic-height outlier”.

The state is sharing its latest numbers while landlord groups continue to press a claim that major 2019 changes to New York’s rent laws are pushing landlords to leave units vacant. Landlords are arguing that needed repairs would cost more than permitted rent increases allow for. The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA) blocked landlords from significantly jacking up rents on vacant units when leasing them to new tenants.  

“We know this problem exists and is growing,” said Jay Martin, executive director at landlord group CHIP, regarding apartment vacancies, in a statement provided to THE CITY. “There is no path for an apartment to get back on the market. That is an irrational policy and it needs to be fixed.” 

Tenant groups are escalating calls for landlords to fill empty apartments amid an affordable housing crisis, and maintain that warehousing has been a problem since before HSTPA. 

Long-term Impact

The new data from HCR suggests that the 2019 rent laws did not have a long-term impact on the rent-stabilized apartment vacancy rate, since about 40,000 units were registered as vacant both before and after the law. 

“It is clear from the data that the HSTPA, passed in 2019, did not cause the sky to fall,” said Oksana Mironova, housing policy analyst with the nonprofit Community Service Society. “This is not surprising given academic and policy research, going back to the 1980s, showing that strong rent regulation systems do not cause increased vacancy or the deterioration of housing conditions.” She cited one study focused on New Jersey as well as a national survey of conditions in cities with rent laws.

HCR’s count tallies rent-stabilized apartments that property owners self-report as having been empty as of April 1, 2022, and will continue to grow as more registrations come in. The final 2022 count is not slated for release for more than a year, when HCR publishes its annual report on Dec. 31, 2023.

Tenant groups continue to emphasize how landlords keeping rent-stabilized apartments vacant affects their communities, highlighting that warehousing has persisted for years without intervention from local and state governments. 

“The issue has not received the attention it deserves until recently,“ the Coalition to End Apartment Warehousing wrote to THE CITY in a statement. “Whether there are 40,000 or 88,000 warehoused units, we look forward to finding appropriate solutions to deal with this issue during this unprecedented housing and homelessness crisis.“

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