Jonathan Custodio, The City

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This article was originally published on May 2 10:09pm EDT by THE CITY

Tenants in rent-stabilized apartments will see rent increases in the coming year lower than worst-case scenarios, following a Rent Guidelines Board preliminary vote Tuesday night on a range of potential rate hikes.

By a 5-to-4 vote, the board approved a maximum rent increase of between 2% and 5% on one-year leases and 4% and 7% on two-year leases.

Tenant supporters disrupted board members with boos and jeers as they tried to get through the meeting, clamoring for rent rollbacks for nearly an hour — with some then leaping onto the stage at the Great Hall at Cooper Union in Manhattan, joined by five City Council members.

“Rent rollback! Rent rollback!” supporters chanted as RGB members sat in silence while waiting for them to finish. Some of them scrolled on their phones while others stared into the crowd.

In an unusual show of solidarity by elected officials, Councilmembers Chi Ossé, Sandy Nurse, Alexa Aviles and Shahana Hanif of Brooklyn and Queens Councilmember Tiffany Cabán led the stage takeover along with a couple dozen supporters. The Council members also spoke to the crowd, which quieted its roar to hear them read testimonies from renters around the city who say their housing situations would be upended by any increase in rent.

The actual hike will be determined next month by a final vote of the mayorally appointed board.

The preliminary vote marks the highest potential hike from the board in a decade. The board’s decision marks the second year in a row that it has approved rent hikes, following the 3.25% and 5% increases to one and two-year leases, respectively, that members approved last year. It’s a marked shift from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, when RGB members supported a rent freeze for three of his eight years.

The board’s nine members, with five to represent the public and two each to represent tenants and landlords, are all appointed to staggered terms by the mayor. Adams has selected a majority of sitting members.

After the board votes on its final decision, the allowable rent increases will apply to leases signed on or after Oct. 1, 2023.

Rent Reduction Floated

Not every member supported the range of rent hikes the board ultimately approved.

A Rent Guidelines Board member representing tenants, Genesis Aquino, offered a proposal that encompassed a potential rent reduction, with a range of -1% to 1% for one-year leases and 0% to 2% for two-year leases. The board voted that down.

She told reporters after the meeting that she and fellow tenant board member Adán Soltren would continue to “fight for the lowest increases possible.”

Added Aquino, who is in her first year on the board: “I’m just annoyed. It’s not what I expected or what I wanted but, also, I’m not surprised.”

After the vote, Hanif told THE CITY the number the board landed on was “too damn high” and “unacceptable.” She said she and her fellow Council members and housing groups in attendance had called for, at minimum, a rent freeze.

Meanwhile, a landlord group responded to the vote with a statement of condemnation for both the process and the vote result.

“It is clear that this process is broken. Setting reasonable rent adjustments that will maintain affordability and the quality of roughly a million apartments should be determined by professionals and data and not the farcical display that happened this evening,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP).

He added: “As for the vote, let’s be clear: It does not come close to covering the rising costs in rent-stabilized buildings. Even the highest end of these ranges will not put a penny in rent-stabilized building owners’ pockets. Every single cent of the proposed rent adjustment will go to property tax payments, maintenance, skyrocketing insurance, and mandatory upgrades to buildings.”

As it does each year, the board used research from staff reports plus testimonials from city officials, mortgage lenders, tenant leaders and landlords to arrive at its preliminary proposal.

In last week’s public meeting before the preliminary vote, tenant leaders cautioned that any rent increase will result in more evictions for tenants already managing high rent and utility costs, while landlords are not facing the same dire straits.

They urged the board to adopt a rent freeze. Staff research showed a majority of tenants are “rent burdened” — spending a third of their earnings or more on housing costs. Nearly 40% of tenants are spending more than half their income on rent.

Property owners testified to experiencing sharp jumps in operating and maintenance expenses amid rising inflation, highlighting a recent RGB report that recommended hikes as high as 8.5% on one-year leases due to higher costs. Landlords urged the board to consider their cost burdens.

Mayor Eric Adams weighed in following the vote, with a statement of sympathy to tenants.

“While we are reviewing the preliminary ranges put forward by the Rent Guidelines Board this evening, I want to be clear that a seven-percent rent increase is clearly beyond what renters can afford and what I feel is appropriate this year,” he said. “I recognize that property owners face growing challenges maintaining their buildings and accessing financing to make repairs; at the same time, we simply cannot put tenants in a position where they can’t afford to make rent.”

Adams added: “Members of the RGB are tasked with making independent decisions based on all available data. However, I hope they will look at options below the top of these preliminary ranges to strike the right balance to keep New Yorkers in their homes while providing building owners with the resources they need to provide safe, high-quality homes.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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