A deal to make permanent and expand protections offered by the state’s rent regulations in New York was announced overnight by lawmakers, who negotiated a two-way agreement on the issue without meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo, who’s pushed the Legislature in recent days to come to such an agreement, said Tuesday he would sign whatever bill lawmakers send to him.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said in a joint statement late Tuesday evening that the new laws will be the strongest tenant protections in the state’s history.
“For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state.” Heastie and Stewart-Cousins said in a joint statement. “These reforms will pass both legislative houses and we are hopeful that the governor will sign them into law. It is the right thing to do.”
Notably, the bill printed late Tuesday will make the state’s rent laws permanent. They were previously approved to sunset every few years, which brought tenant groups and the real estate lobby back to Albany routinely to advocate for reform.
The legislation includes a number of other changes that lawmakers have said are intended to benefit tenants in New York City, particularly lower-income residents and those in rent-stabilized units.
The bill, for example, would eliminate a part of the state’s current law that allows for units to be removed from rent stabilization when the cost of rent or the tenant’s income passes certain thresholds. It would also repeal a section of law that currently allows landlords to increase the rent of a unit by as much as 20 percent when it becomes vacant.
Landlords would also have a tighter limit on how much they could increase the rent of a unit when major capital improvements, or MCIs, are made. New limits would be placed on what would quality as an MCI, which would be coupled with routine inspections to ensure that those rules are enforced.
The legislation also includes a number of other provisions designed to protect tenants from eviction and limit the power of landlords to increase rent by certain amounts.
Unlike the state’s previous laws regarding rent stabilization, the new legislation would also allow municipalities statewide to opt in to those protections. Those municipalities would have to meet certain requirements, such as having less than 5% vacancy in the housing stock to be regulated, but would otherwise be able to adopt the regulations.
Other parts of the bill would automatically be enforced statewide to benefit tenants. Security deposits would be limited to one month’s rent, for example, and new procedures would be put in place to ensure the deposit is returned to former tenants expeditiously.
The legislation would also create a new crime to be charged against landlords who unlawfully evict a tenant for reasons that run contrary to the state’s laws. Landlords would be charged with the crime when they illegally lock out, or use force, to evict a tenant.
That crime would be a class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of nearly a year in prison. Violators could also be forced to pay a civil penalty of between $1,000 and $10,000 per instance, according to the bill.
Lawmakers are expected to approve the bill later this week. The rent laws are due to expire on June 15, which put them in a time crunch this month before the end of this year’s legislative session, which is scheduled to conclude next Wednesday.