Historic Rent Laws Passed in June. Awareness of Them Has Been Less Historic.

Assemblyperson Richard Gottfried and lawyer Robert Desir explained how new rent laws benefit tenants at an event on Monday.

Assemblyperson Richard Gottfried (left) and The Legal Aid Society lawyer Robert Desir (right) on Monday explaining The Housing Stability and Rent Protection Act of 2019. (Staff Photo by Ronni Husmann)

LS sophomore Isabella Kloster knew she had to get an apartment in June, since she had planned to live in the city over the summer. What she didn’t know was that the $400 application fee she paid to get one was illegal under historic rent laws passed by New York State that month.

Kloster, who lives in an off-campus apartment in Gramercy, is not alone — multiple students WSN talked to were not aware of The Housing Stability and Rent Protection Act of 2019, a significant pro-renter legislation that capped security deposits at one month’s rent, limited application fees to $20 and increased punishments for unlawful evictions of tenants, among other things.

Assemblyperson Richard Gottfried, a major proponent of this bill, hoped to address this on Monday at an event meant to inform New Yorkers on how the new laws may apply to them.

On Monday, at the Hartley House, Gottfried and Robert Desir, a lawyer at The Legal Aid Society, spoke to an audience of around 30 people about the new laws.

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“The reason we are holding this event is that we had the really delightful and just about unprecedented experience this year in the legislature in passing an extraordinary package of pro-rent rent laws,” Gottfried told the crowd. 

The bill was created with the goal of protecting the 65% of New York City residents that rent apartments, and ensuring stability for new tenants. These new laws include a longer period of time for tenants to fix lease violations, a requirement for landlords to notify tenants if they are going to increase the rent by more than 5% and a cap on the amount landlords can raise rents after making Major Capital Improvements.

“[Rent laws] protect affordable housing, and it enables people who are in rental housing to put down roots and be confident that it can be their home,” Gottfried told WSN. “[The changes were] essential in rebuilding the rent law protections that are essential to New York City’s soul.”

As part of his work at The Legal Aid Society, Desir represents tenants with rental problems. On Monday, he highlighted two ways the new laws may affect attendees: one, rent regulated apartments can no longer be deregulated and, two, rents cannot be increased based on how long a tenant has been in an apartment, or the amount of rent a tenant pays.

“The legislature created a standard for what would qualify for such a rent increase, because there have been a lot of abuses in that area,” Desir said. “We’ve seen instances where owners have done work that is completely unnecessary and just designed to get a rent increase.”

Many of the people in attendance at the event shared personal challenges they are facing or have faced regarding rental manipulation by their landlords. One attendee brought up that he had been promised central heating in his contracts, and even after 20 years of living in his apartment, had still not receiving any heating. Another attendee mentioned that they were still paying hundreds of dollars more in rent per month after their landlord used an MCI to raise rates.

Both Gottfried and Desir encouraged those still facing challenges to contact them outside of the event, with Gottfried giving out his email address and phone number.

The act was made possible following a left-swinging election into both New York State Assembly and Senate last November and from a long push by tenant activists for rent control.

Kloster, once learning about the changes, was pleasantly surprised.

“I think they are absolutely amazing,” Kloster said. “Anyone who’s a renter can benefit from them. Whether you’re renting through NYU, in the East Village [or] pricier places.”

Despite the law passing, landlords have pushed back on the legislation. Multiple real estate trade groups filed an ongoing federal lawsuit in July, in part against New York City, to try and get the laws ruled unconstitutional.

The Real Estate Board of New York, a real estate trade association, had invested upwards of $1 million in Republican senators who ran for congress last year — and lost. Now, REBNY claims these changes will negatively affect future construction plans. 

“Landlords have been making those complaints for decades,” Gottfried told WSN. “I think the data is clear that building owners in New York can make very healthy profits off their rental buildings. I think this is just propaganda and scare tactics. I don’t think there’s any solid evidence to it.”

Email Ronni Husmann at [email protected] 

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