Sweeping rent reg­u­la­tion bill of­fers protection­s for ten­ants

Leg­is­la­tion cov­ers Buf­falo land­lords

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Tom Pre­cious

ALBANY – Ten­ants in Buf­falo and other up­state rental units will have new protection­s un­der a sweeping rent reg­u­la­tion mea­sure that has been agreed to by Democrats who run the State Assem­bly and Se­nate.

The omnibus bill, the pro­vi­sions of which mostly af­fect New York City, also ap­plies new statewide stan­dards for how land­lords may treat ten­ants and pro­vides a series of first-ever safe­guards for peo­ple who live in man­u­fac­tured home parks.

It also ex­pands statewide an ex­ist­ing New York City and down­state sub­ur­ban law that caps an­nual rent hikes. But it can oc­cur only in com­mu­ni­ties that want such a pro­gram and have been able to de­clare an emer­gency in hous­ing va­can­cies.

The bill, in­tro­duced late Tues­day, is ex­pected to be voted on some­time Fri­day. Gov. An­drew M. Cuomo, who said he took no role in the ne­go­ti­a­tions for the rent pack­age, has publicly vowed to sign into law what­ever bill the two houses pass on the is­sue.

Late Wed­nes­day morn­ing, he said he’d keep to that vow. “I be­lieve this is the best ten­ant protection­s they will pass,

and I will sign it,” Cuomo said at the Capi­tol.

The im­pe­tus for the agree­ment, be­yond a grow­ing ten­sion be­tween law­mak­ers and Cuomo, is the ex­pi­ra­tion later this week of rent reg­u­la­tions that af­fect more than 1 mil­lion apart­ments in New York City.

“None of these his­toric new ten­ant protection­s would be pos­si­ble with­out the fact that New York fi­nally has a united Demo­cratic Leg­is­la­ture,” Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader An­drea Ste­wart-Cousins and Assem­bly Speaker Carl Heastie said.

Sen. Brian Ka­vanagh, a Man­hat­tan Demo­crat who leads the Se­nate hous­ing com­mit­tee, said the bill he helped ne­go­ti­ate comes af­ter years of Se­nate con­trol by Repub­li­cans, who helped the real es­tate in­dus­try cre­ate rent laws “rid­dled with loop­holes.”

The new agree­ment is about “re-bal­anc­ing the sys­tem” to al­low land­lords to get a reasonable re­turn on their investment­s while pro­tect­ing ten­ants.

Though many Buf­falo area law­mak­ers were not publicly out front on the rent ef­forts, as com­pared with of­fi­cials from some other up­state cities, some of the agree­ment’s pro­vi­sions will have an ef­fect on all ar­eas of the state.

For in­stance, the ex­ist­ing bur­den on ten­ants to prove that they were evicted for merely com­plain­ing about the con­di­tions of their apart­ment will be flipped on its head, ac­cord­ing to Assem­bly­man Steven Cym­browitz, a Brook­lyn Demo­crat who ne­go­ti­ated the fi­nal bill’s deal as chair­man of the Assem­bly hous­ing com­mit­tee.

The panel took tes­ti­mony around the state. He re­called hear­ing from one woman whose child was nearly struck when part of a ceil­ing fell down; when she com­plained to the land­lord, she was given 72 hours to leave the apart­ment.

“What we have done is now pro­hibit re­tal­ia­tory evic­tions against anyone who makes any good faith com­plaint al­leg­ing … that there’s some­thing wrong with an apart­ment,” Cym­browitz said. In­stead of ten­ants having to prove an il­le­gal re­tal­ia­tory con­vic­tion, land­lords will have the bur­den of prov­ing that an evic­tion was not re­tal­ia­tory. “That is a key piece,” he said. A ten­ant who wins a le­gal action against a land­lord will be awarded a re­newal in their lease, and land­lords are barred from im­pos­ing a big rent hike as re­tal­i­a­tion.

The deal in­cludes an ar­ray of ten­ant safe­guards, in­clud­ing be­fore they move into an apart­ment, such as ban­ning land­lords from asking peo­ple for more than one month’s se­cu­rity and the first month’s rent as a con­di­tion for sign­ing a lease. The agree­ment also:

• Bans “ten­ant black­lists,” used against ten­ants for en­forc­ing their rights and also cre­ates a crim­i­nal penalty for land­lords who il­le­gally lock out ten­ants.

• Pre­serves the rights of land­lords to evict ten­ants who don’t pay rent, but puts in place new evic­tions pro­ce­dures, in­clud­ing giv­ing ten­ants more time to get a lawyer or come up with funds to pay back rent.

• Re­quires spe­cific no­tice from land­lords if they in­tend to not re­new a lease or raise an apart­ment’s rent by more than 5%.

The deal ex­pands statewide the Emer­gency Ten­ant Pro­tec­tion Act, which for years has ap­plied to New York City and Nassau, Rock­land and Westch­ester coun­ties. It reg­u­lates such things as al­low­able an­nual rent hikes in apart­ments cov­ered un­der the law. A num­ber of con­di­tions would have to be met in or­der for the law to ap­ply in an up­state city, town or vil­lage.

For starters, it would ap­ply only to build­ings con­structed prior to 1974 that have six or more units. Buf­falo of­fi­cials re­cently told The Buf­falo News they had no firm ac­count­ing for how many such apart­ments ex­ist in the city.

A hous­ing sur­vey, paid for by the lo­cal­ity, also would have to be per­formed. If there is a net va­cancy rate below 5% in a com­mu­nity, then the in­ter­ested lo­cal gov­ern­ment can opt into the ten­ant pro­tec­tion act. It would then have to cre­ate a board — run at the county level — to reg­u­late the sys­tem and de­ter­mine an­nual al­low­able rent in­creases for the cov­ered apart­ments. Cities, towns and vil­lages may vol­un­tar­ily opt into the pro­gram.

The deal also in­cludes new protection­s for peo­ple liv­ing in man­u­fac­tured or mo­bile home parks.

Law­mak­ers heard nu­mer­ous com­plaints from ten­ants in such res­i­den­tial parks, in­clud­ing cases of out-of-town de­vel­op­ers buy­ing up the land upon which the homes sit – the ac­tual units are owned by the res­i­dents – and then jack­ing up the rental fees on the prop­erty. Or, in other cases, spec­u­la­tors send rents soar­ing to push peo­ple out of their homes so de­vel­op­ers can turn the parks into other uses.

The deal be­tween the Assem­bly and Se­nate would re­quire a park owner or operator to give res­i­dents of a man­u­fac­tured home two years no­tice be­fore evict­ing them, as well as a $15,000 stipend.

Rent in­creases on man­u­fac­tured home res­i­dents would be capped at 3% an­nu­ally, un­less the land­lord can justify the need for a hard­ship al­lowance, in which case rent can rise a max­i­mum of 6% a year. A “home­owner’s bill of rights” pro­vi­sion would be added to all res­i­dents’ leases in a man­u­fac­tured home park.

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