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Last night, the city's Rent Guidelines Board voted, for the second year in a row, for a rent freeze on one-year lease renewals for rent-stabilized apartments. Rents on a two-year leases will see a two-percent increase. Board members—who are elected by Mayor Bill de Blasio—explained their decision by saying most tenants in regulated units struggle with housing costs. (Last year, for the first time since its estabilishment in 1969, the RGB froze rents; they also imposed the lowest two-year rent increase in history. Before de Blasio, yearly rent increases for rent stabilized units ranged between 2 and 4 percent and up to about 8 percent for two-year leases.)
Not everyone was happy, of course. At public hearings over the last month, tenants had been asking for a continuation of the freeze, but many also wanted to add on a rent rollback. (Brick correspondent Dennis Golin was at the scene last night on Facebook Live—see the archived interviews on our FB page.)
Unsurprisingly, landlords seemed even more disappointed with the vote. "The discrepency between the operating cost increases and the rents that are allowed continue to grow every year," says Matthew Engel, president of Community Housing Improvement Program, a trade association representing more than 3,500 apartment-building owners.
"The argument for a rollback and freeze was that fuel costs went down this year, so landlords' expenses did, too. But half the buildings in New York City are heated by natural gas, so those landlords had no decrease," he says. Plus, he adds, "there's basically been a 1 percent increase in rent the last three years and the tax asssesments went up 33 percent for landlords in that time. Today, 40 percent of a building's operating costs are taxes to the city. If you want a rent freeze, you need to give a tax freeze, too."
Nonetheless, the mayor explained in a statement that the board’s decision was warranted. “More than a million people will now have more security and a better shot at making ends meet,” he said. “And the financial health of our buildings will remain protected because declining fuel costs have offset other expenses." He added that the decision "reflects what’s actually happening in our neighborhoods.”
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