What it Means to Queens

by Jeffrey Kaufman
The Resident, June 20, 1997
A Rent Regulation Agreement is Near But Don’t Jump for Joy Yet

Many had feared that deregulation would cause a migration from Manhattan, which would drive up rents in areas like Forest Hills.

Tenants weren’t the only ones waiting for an answer. With approximately 35 percent of the apartments in Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens along with between 25-30 percent of the apartments in Astoria subject to the laws, Queens landlords had been planning for the deadline for weeks. Some landlords had even stopped giving out vacant apartment listings for the past couple months in expectation of rent law expiration.

Republican State Senator Serphin Maltese from Queens, who had been in favor vacancy decontrol, said that no issue in his eight years in office has evoked as much mail as the rent control debate.

Although tenants and democrats are rejoicing, some still have concerns.

"While we view the agreement as a victory for tenants in the state against a multi-millionaire lobby, several provisions have us concerned," warned New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition spokesperson Tim Lally.

"We are concerned about the proposed provisions which would permit landlords to charge 20 percent more on apartments that become vacant as well as increase rents by $100 for apartments whose current base rent is under $300," Lally explained. "Additionally, provisions which require tenants to deposit rent into court are difficult to accept, but under the circumstances, we are generally pleased."

A close look at some of the provisions indicate that, by and large, regulations which favor the tenants have continued.

The current rental regulations, except for tenants whose income is above $175,000 and whose apartments are rented for over $2000, will remain intact for current apartment dwellers. That means that tenants in currently rent regulated apartments will be entitled to renewal leases, either one or two years, at controlled increases, and may not be evicted except for violations of their lease.

While apartments which become vacant are subject to a 20 percent vacancy rate increase (and an adjustment for the length of the previous tenancy) the apartment will still be subject to rent regulation with all of the protections that provides. Previous vacancy rates were 16 percent for a new two year lease.

In order to dissuade landlords from employing harassing tactics to force tenants to vacate their apartments due to the 20 percent adjustment, special provisions which could result in a felony conviction and a four year prison sentence for any landlord who employs such tactics have been agreed upon.

Landlords walked away from the agreement with some favorable provisions in addition to the increase in vacancy rates. Also included are a $100 per month adjustment for apartments which become vacant where the previous tenant paid $300 per month or less in addition to other adjustments.

Apartments renting over $2000 per month and whose tenants earn more than $175,000 per year, down from the current $250,000 would have their apartments decontrolled and subject only to market conditions.

Apartments, under the new agreement, could not be passed to family members beyond one generation unless the relative paid the vacancy rate. Nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins would no longer have succession rights unless they can show a special hardship.

In Housing Court, where the requirement to deposit rent into court has been discretionary with the judge, the new agreement would require that after two adjournments, in buildings with 12 or less units, all rent be deposited. For buildings over 12 units only disputed rent would be deposited while undisputed rent would be paid over to the landlord.

A formula, based on the length of stay of the previous tenant would permit landlords to charge additional rent upon vacancy of the unit. The formula is six tenths of 1 percent for each year of the previous tenant’s stay. This would be added to the 20 percent vacancy rate but would only apply to apartments that haven’t been newly rented for over eight years.

"I think, in the end, [Senate Majority Leader Joseph] Bruno saw that downstate Republican Senators might vote against him and he was scared," explained Lally. "We lobbied the Queens Republicans heavily. I guess it paid off."