Housing is a human right


New York’s tenant protection laws expire June 15. My colleagues and I are faced with a huge opportunity to reshape how our laws protect the basic human right of housing.

There are many pro-tenant bills before the state legislature, including a package of nine bills that have gathered significant momentum in the Assembly that would undo a quarter-century of chipping away at tenants’ rights. We finally have an opportunity to undo damage caused by the state senate and a former Republican governor, and to restore balance in the landlord-tenant relationship.

The Republicans certainly never missed an opportunity to diminish tenants’ rights, and Democrats must not miss this opportunity to restore them back.

Literally since I was a teenager, and long before I ever considered running for public office, I have been a tenant advocate. Now, as an elected official, I am among the strongest voices for strengthening renters’ rights in the New York State Assembly — the legislative body which has always led the way on fighting for tenants, even when stymied by Republican senate opposition.

The small victories we have been able to claim in recent years have been far outweighed by the defeats, but I am optimistic that this is our year to reassert the rights of tenants.

The package of nine bills, which are supported by the Housing Justice for All campaign coalition, is a comprehensive expansion of renters’ rights and limitations of windfall profits for landlords. Several of the bills have already been passed by the Assembly in recent years: elimination of the eviction (vacancy) bonus (passed each of the past three years), making preferential rents permanent for the tenancy (passed nine times in the past 11 years), ending vacancy decontrol (passed seven times in the past 10 years), and relief to rent-controlled tenants (passed last year).

Two more are stronger versions of legislation that the Assembly has passed numerous times: eliminating rent increases for major capital improvements, and individual apartment improvements. Three of them are new bills: My bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for rent overcharge complaints, expanding renters’ rights to all counties who wish to opt in, and creating a “good cause” standard for eviction of tenants.

There is no question that the recent rise in homelessness over the past 25 years is a direct result of rising housing unaffordability, spurred on by weak protection laws that have been watered down for too long by Republicans who reliably promoted real estate interests over the interests of their constituents.

We must eliminate the rent increases landlords receive for MCIs. These rent increases are redundant, and often provide windfall profits for landlords as they double and triple count the benefits received for essentially performing their primary function of providing livable housing for tenants. Not only does capital investment already increase the value of their property, but there are numerous other programs which support landlords who renovate buildings such as the J-51 tax credit, weatherization programs, preservation loans, and Article 11 tax exemptions.

Furthermore, keeping a building in decent condition is a fundamental part of the job. If a landlord doesn’t want to invest in their own property, then they should not be property owners.

How many times have we seen huge increases from individual apartment improvements, or IAIs, that are fertile ground for fraudulent behavior, as supporting documentation is only required to be made available upon request by the tenant? How many people have been forced out of their apartment because of huge increases in their preferential rent?

How many apartments have rents that skyrocketed in just a few years because of the automatic 20 percent vacancy increase? And how many people can’t object to previous fraud (mistakes) by landlords because of the four-year look-back limit on filing complaints?

I have lived in just about every type of housing there is: rent-controlled, rent-stabilized, NYCHA, Mitchell-Lama and cooperative, and all of these are integral components toward the eternal fight for affordable housing in New York City. We finally have an opportunity to take strong action by passing these nine excellent bills to protect tenants throughout New York.

We cannot let this opportunity pass us by, and we cannot wait until the last minute to reform our rent laws. Let’s take action now — we know what has to be done, and I am hopeful that we have enough support throughout the state to pass all nine bills.

These bills are game-changers. They will make housing more affordable, and go a long way toward preventing homelessness.

The time for these reforms is now.

The author is the Assemblyman representing the 81st district., which includes Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Norwood, Woodlawn and Wakefield.

Jeffrey Dinowitz,