Eric Calls For Repeal Of Vacancy Decontrol

Eric T. Schneiderman

June 10, 2008

On Tuesday, May 13th, the New York State Assembly passed a package of legislation to protect affordable housing, including a bill sponsored by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal to repeal high rent vacancy decontrol. We know that vacancy decontrol is responsible for the loss of over 10,000 units of affordable housing each year, and I want to praise Assemblymember Rosenthal and the leaders in the Assembly for taking steps to support the financial health and well being of New York's working families.

High rent vacancy decontrol is a provision of the state’s rent regulation laws that permits apartments to be removed from rent regulation if the rent on a vacant apartment reaches $2,000. Once an apartment is decontrolled the rent can be raised to market rate, sometimes two or three times the regulated rent. Approximately 300,000 apartments have been removed from regulation through vacancy decontrol, significantly reducing the availability of apartments that are affordable for low- or middle-income tenants.

Vacancy decontrol has also been criticized by housing advocates and Democratic elected officials for contributing to an increase in tenant harassment. Under current law, every time a rent stabilized apartment becomes vacant the landlord is allowed to raise the rent up to 20%. Because the potential increase in rent can be so immense when an apartment is decontrolled, landlords have a strong financial incentive to encourage frequent turnover of tenants in order to push rents quickly toward the $2,000 threshold for decontrol.

Legislators from throughout New York City hear from constituents almost daily who are being harassed because unscrupulous landlords are trying to push them out and raise rents. This bill attacks the root of that problem by taking away the perverse incentive that landlords currently have to profit by making their apartments unlivable in order to drive turnover.

In order to move this bill in the Senate, I joined 26 of my Senate colleagues in signing on to a letter, addressed to Senator Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, strongly urging that similar legislation be immediately brought to a vote in the Senate.

The Assembly has passed bills, with the governor’s support, to ensure that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have an affordable place to live. If the Senate Majority chooses not to follow suit, they will be giving voters a clear choice in November between a government that cares about affordable housing, and one that doesn’t.