Some Regulated Apartments May Be Unaffected by State

New York Times, May 18, 1997

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Lost in the furor over the overhauling of New York's rent laws has been the fact that thousands of apartments in New York City could continue to be regulated no matter what state lawmakers decide.

Housing experts disagree sharply about how many city apartments that would be, and that disagreement is only one sign of how complex the rental market has become after a tortuous half-century of regulation.

Indeed, if state laws are allowed to expire June 16, only two results appear to be certain: widespread confusion and many lawsuits.

The rules that limit rents on 1.2 million apartments in the state are not one law but several. Two are New York City laws that would not be affected if the state allowed its laws to expire.

The city's rent stabilization law, enacted in 1969 and applied to buildings built from 1947 to 1968, has been largely pre-empted by a later state law. City officials and most housing experts say the city law still covers about 40,000 units, but some experts interpret the laws differently and say the city law still governs 280,000 apartments.

Disagreement in how to interpret the city law will surely be at the center of an enormous number of lawsuits if the state laws expire, as renters seek rulings that their apartments are still regulated by the city law. That city law, its rent stabilization law, is subject to renewal every three years by the City Council and the mayor, and was renewed this year.

The other city law, its rent control law, was enacted in 1962 as the successor to a series of city, state and federal rules that date to 1943. That rent control law applies to about 70,000 apartments, those built before 1947 that have had the same occupant, or a family successor, since 1971. Rent control originally meant much lower rents than rent stabilization, but the gap has narrowed over the years, because the city has allowed sizable annual increases in controlled rents.

As Mayor Rudolph Giuliani frequently notes, the city rent control system does not have an expiration date, and would not be affected if state rent regulations end.

In 1971, the state enacted vacancy decontrol, meaning that when tenants moved out or died, their landlords were able to charge market rates for the vacated apartment. About 400,000 units were deregulated this way before the state repealed vacancy decontrol as part of a new rent law in 1974.

The main state law that is scheduled to expire is that 1974 law, which extended rent stabilization in the city to buildings built from 1968 to 1973. It also required that any rent-controlled apartment that became vacant would revert to rent stabilization, a rule that has gradually made rent stabilization the dominant system, converting 764,000 units from rent control.

All told, the state law now imposes rent stabilization on slightly more than 1 million units in the city, including those whose status under the city law is uncertain.

The 1974 state law also allowed towns in Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties to enact rent stabilization. Those suburbs have about 60,000 apartments under the state system.

Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company