NEW YORK, N.Y.—Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation Mar. 27 that will renew the city’s rent-stabilization and rent-control laws for the next three years.
The mayor also declared a housing emergency, which is legally required for the city to be able to regulate rents. State law defines a housing shortage as a vacancy rate of less than 5%. The 2017 Housing and Vacancy Survey, conducted for the city by the U.S. Census Bureau, found 3.63% of the city’s 2,183,000 rental units vacant.
The City Council voted 47-1 Mar. 22 to renew the rent-stabilization law, and approved a resolution declaring a housing emergency by voice vote.
De Blasio also called reforming the state’s rent-regulation laws—which limit what the city can do—“a top priority.” Specifically, he urged repealing high-rent vacancy decontrol, under which a vacant apartment with a rent of $2,733.75 per month may be deregulated, and the 20% rent increase allowed on vacant apartments. “This allowance has created strong incentives for bad actors to pressure tenants out of their homes in the hopes of faster-rising rents,” the mayor’s office said in a statement. De Blasio added that those owners often raise rents illegally.
The city is also calling for stronger limits on Individual Apartment Improvement and Major Capital Improvement increases, which are permanently added to rents for building-wide or individual-apartment renovations.
The Assembly has regularly passed such bills over the past several years, but they have been blocked in the state Senate by the Republican-Independent Democratic Conference majority. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation raising the threshold for high-rent vacancy deregulation, but has not supported repealing it.
The city can’t legally enact such measures itself. A 1971 state law, passed as part of a short-lived effort to deregulate all vacant rent-controlled apartments, prohibits New York City from enacting rent regulations stronger than the state’s. The state laws, which also cover Westchester, Nassau, and Rockland counties, will come up for renewal in 2019.
The Housing and Vacancy Survey found that rising rents continue to outstrip tenants’ incomes. It estimated that the city’s median rent, which includes both market-rate apartments and public housing, was $1,337 a month, up 8.1% from 2014 after adjusting for inflation, while renters’ median income was about $908 a week. For the 966,000 rent-stabilized apartments, median rent was $1,269, up 2.6%, and tenants’ median income $857 a week.
About 30% of tenant households spend more than half their income on rent, and only 15% of the city’s rental units cost less than $800, the level considered affordable for a household making $32,000 a year.
The vacancy rate was drastically lower for cheaper apartments, the survey said. It was only 1.15% for those under $800, 2.52% for those between $1,000 and $1,499, and 8.74% for apartments costing $2,500 or more. It was 2.06% for rent-stabilized apartments.
“Rent regulation is the most critical tool we have for maintaining affordable housing in New York City,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said in a statement. “This year’s Housing Vacancy Survey results are staggering and show that it is necessary for the City to extend rent regulation, and we will continue to work on legislation that protects tenants and we will continue to increase opportunities to access affordable housing.”