Rent Control in New York City: Background information when reading Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

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Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

by Sidik Fofana

Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana X
Stories from the Tenants Downstairs by Sidik Fofana
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    Aug 2022, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Rent Control in New York City

This article relates to Stories from the Tenants Downstairs

Print Review

Brownstone buildings in New York CityIn Sidik Fofana's Stories from the Tenants Downstairs, gentrification and rent rises pose a threat to the struggling characters living in an apartment building in Harlem. New York City and some neighboring suburban counties operate rent control and/or rent stabilization policies.

Rent control is rare, only applying to about 16,000 residential properties that were constructed before 1947 and have been occupied since 1971. These are remnants of a mid-20th-century drive to ensure affordable housing for the working class in American cities, spearheaded by NYC after the end of relevant federal regulations. The maximum base rent is adjusted every two years to take operating costs into account but cannot be raised beyond that amount. Tenants can protest a proposed rent rise if the landlord has not provided needed services or addressed building violations.

More common is rent stabilization, which is currently in place in about one million NYC apartment buildings of six units or more that were built between 1947 and 1973. The NYC Rent Guidelines Board determines how much rent on these apartments can be raised each year based on cost of living indices, taxes, operating costs and other factors. The system suffered a blow in 1971 when Governor Nelson Rockefeller, influenced by a powerful landlord lobby, signed into law a "vacancy decontrol" policy, whereby if a tenant moved out of an apartment it would automatically lose its stabilization. Hundreds of thousands of rent-stabilized apartments were lost in this way in the intervening decades.

In 2019, the New York State Senate passed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act. The first substantial strengthening of tenants' rights in four decades, it repealed the "vacancy decontrol" policy and closed several loopholes. Landlords can still increase stabilized rent if they make "Major Capital Improvements" to the entire building, but this is technically temporary; after 30 years, the rent reverts to the stabilized price. Although the situation is an improvement overall, rent increases can still make life difficult for tenants, and there may be complicated negotiations and appeals procedures, as seen in Fofana's book.

Activists continue to protest for a "Good Cause Eviction" clause and "Universal Rent Control"; together, these policies would protect tenants across the board from unprovoked eviction and rent rises of more than three percent or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index for inflation, whichever is higher.

Filed under Society and Politics

Article by Rebecca Foster

This article relates to Stories from the Tenants Downstairs. It first ran in the September 21, 2022 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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