NEWS AND ISSUES


TESTIMONY OF STATE SENATOR THOMAS K. DUANE BEFORE THE NEW YORK STATE DIVISION OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY RENEWAL ON THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE RENT STABILIZATION CODE, THE CITY RENT AND EVICTION REGULATIONS AND THE EMERGENCY TENANTS PROTECTION REGULATIONS

December 4, 2006

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York Statefs 29th Senatorial District, which includes the Upper West Side, Hellfs Kitchen, Greenwich Village, Chelsea, sections of the East Side, Stuyvesant Town, Peter Cooper Village and Waterside Plaza. This mixed-income district has a very large concentration of tenants, the majority of whom are rent regulated.

In his twelve years in office, Governor Pataki has presided over the evisceration of tenant protections and advanced the dramatic decline in New York Cityfs affordable housing. It is disgraceful that in his final days in office, his administration is attempting to once again further advantage landlords and place additional burdens on tenants.

Among the changes the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) is considering today are: increasing security deposits for rent stabilized tenants from one to two months rent; allowing landlords to treat legally mandated removal of hazardous lead paint as a major capital improvement; allowing eviction proceedings at any time against rent stabilized tenants whom landlords suspect are not occupying their apartments as their primary residence; and allowing for the eviction of rent controlled tenants who charge roommates an unequal share of the rent.

These proposed changes would undermine the purpose of rent regulation, which is to protect affordable housing for all New Yorkers present and future, and particularly for the Cityfs most vulnerable people. Doubling the security deposit for rent stabilized tenants would place a prohibitive financial burden on those most in need of affordable housing; that is, those who are least able to accumulate large sums for a deposit. Categorizing lead paint removal as a major capital improvement would effectively make tenants pay in perpetuity for fundamental safety work that landlords already receive tax abatements and forgivable loans to perform. Allowing landlords to move at any point to evict any rent stabilized tenant they suspect of not making their apartment their primary residence would open the door for unscrupulous landlords to harass tenants through unjustified lawsuits. Finally, permitting landlords to evict rent controlled tenants who charge roommates unequal rents, willfully overlooks the logical reasons for such disparities, including unequal private space and unequal household responsibilities, that are particularly common in shared apartments. These changes would not only potentially hurt poor people and working poor New Yorkers, but also the elderly, the disabled and tenants who live in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) units, many of whom are formerly homeless and at risk of becoming homeless again.

These proposed changes are particularly disturbing and unnecessary at a time when the studies show that New York City landlords continue to make profits while our affordable housing stock is rapidly dwindling. As you know, landlords have already greatly profited from the Statefs vacancy decontrol law. They can now charge gskyfs the limith rents on thousands of recently deregulated apartments. Many constituents have reported to me that their landlords have in effect waged war on them in recent years through forceful attempts at deregulation, often allowable under current DHCR regulations. The amendments being considered today would only give landlords more weapons in their arsenal.

Since 2001, a growing number of my constituents who live in rent regulated apartments have reported being victimized by landlords taking advantage of DHCR policies on such matters as limited allowable time to file overcharge complaints, vacancy decontrol, surcharges for electronic appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators, personal use eviction, luxury decontrol, owner occupancy and demolition. Landlords were also given the right to file for major capital improvements without proving their necessity. When landlords file for such increases, DHCR usually fails to provide full information to tenants. The preferential rent legislation adopted in June 2003 was also extremely unfair and extremely harmful to tenants. With this in mind, Ifm not sure why DHCR finds it necessary to put further burdens on tenants who have been fortunate enough, really strong enough, to have managed to stay in their rent regulated apartments under the Pataki Administration.

Instead of continuing to encourage landlords to work against tenants, I would hope DHCR, the agency charged with protecting rent regulated tenants, would investigate the innumerable complaints that these past egregious changes in DHCR policies have caused. Daily, I hear reports of harassment, illegal construction, enormous rent hikes, phony demolitions and owner occupancy scams because DHCR has allowed for loopholes in its policies that unscrupulous landlords exploit. These changes have resulted in frivolous lawsuits and the backlog in our City and State court systems as landlords take any opportunity to get a hold of regulated apartments in attempts to decontrol them. Itfs deplorable that DHCR would even think of rewarding landlords who flout the system by adding rent increases for lead abatement, forcing tenants to prove their primary residences to the court within five days of notice, and allowing landlords to maliciously investigate and evict rent controlled tenants for possibly overcharging roommates. And given the dearth of affordable housing, it is outrageous that DHCR is even considering increasing the hurdles for working class New Yorkers who wish to access rent regulated apartments by increasing the required security deposit to two months rent. We are in a housing emergency.

DHCR should be proactive in preserving New Yorkfs affordable housing so that poor and middle-class working people can continue to live here. If DHCR approves these proposed amendments, it will serve to expand landlordsf power at the expense of tenantsf rights. Already, DHCR has tipped the scales greatly against tenants. By permitting the further erosion of tenant protection, DHCR would be effectively destabilizing New York Cityfs affordable housing stock and putting tenants who live in rent regulated housing at risk.

The importance of not approving these last-minute changes cannot be overstated. I strongly urge DHCR to reject these proposed amendments. DHCR should encourage landlords to maintain apartments in accordance with the Rent Stabilization Code rather than making it easier for them to take apartments out of the Rent Stabilization system. DHCR should only promulgate regulations that are fair and that help keep apartments affordable and habitable.


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