- CHARITY BENEFIT
Shortly after the Democrats effectively took control over both the New York State Assembly, Senate and the Mayor’s office where Elliot Spitzer enjoyed overwhelming support, with a wide influence within New York City , tenant’s rights groups suddenly had a feeling of optimism. Former Governor George Pataki and his right hand man, former Senate Majority leader Frank Bruno, were finally leaving office and the latter had suddenly found himself under investigation for serious ethic violations, which led to prosecution.
There were signs that longstanding issues such as home rule, illegal hotels and the expansion various housing programs would finally be addressed, despite the influence the real estate boards enjoyed through the halls of Albany and City Hall in Manhattan . All of the stars were aligned as if New York State would lead the country when it came to providing affordable housing to the working class. It seemed like the work of organizations such as Tenant’s And Neighbors, Housing Here and Now and The Westside Neighborhood Alliance had finally started to bear fruit. But it didn’t take long before a series of events dashed those hopes.
In Albany , the infamous coup of June 8th 2009 was executed by Senate Democrats, Pedro Espada, Hiram Monserrate and owned by the real state lobby and billionaire Tom Golisano. The legislative body was supposed to have ruled on key housing issues such as home rule for New York State tenants and the expansion of housing programs such as Mitchell Llama. Espada and Monserrate effectively killed any chance for advances in rent protections coming up for a vote any time in the foreseeable future. Albany is seen as the playground for the real estate industry and is unlikely to vote in favor of working class tenants.
Not long after that, The New York Times did a 2 year investigation, released 10/1/09. They found that several Department of Building inspectors had ties to mobs both in New York and New Jersey . Many rent regulated tenants knew the names and badge numbers of some inspectors. To date more than 30 inspectors were arrested.
For the second straight year, the Rent Guide Lines Board has granted landlords the right to exorbitant rent hikes despite reports by the RGB that landlords are currently making record profits even after operating costs are factored in. In 2011, one year renewed leases were raised by 3.25% and 7.25% for two year leases. The decision for these rent hikes came after a March 24th ruling by an appeals court panel that overturned the rulings by lower courts to do away with, what had long been known as, the “Poverty Tax” in the Casado v. Markus” case. According to an article by Met Council, the decision now forces tenants who pay less than $1000 dollars a month and have lived in their apartments for more than 6 years to pay a minimum rent increase established in 2008 and 2009. To date those increases are $45 dollars for one year leases and $85 dollars on two year leases. Tenants, who pay more than $1000 dollars or have lived in their units less than 6 years, will now see a minimum increase of 4.5% on one year leases and 8.5% on two year leases. These increases have already had a negative impact on lower income tenants 70% of which are Black, Hispanic or Asian according to the Community Service Society. For more on what this means to you as a tenant or more information on the case you can look at the Met Council article at http://www.metcouncil.net/poor-tax-reinstated.htm.
On Friday July 19th of 2010, many activists within the tenant’s movement were elated when the long fought for illegal hotels bill passed in Albany . The law now clearly established a minimum stay as 30 days. Those within the movement were fighting for a minimum of 6 months. The legislation finally gave some real power to OSE (Office of Special Enforcement).
Several complications have slowed the progress. The current housing laws state that the penalty for violating this law is a flat charge of $800 no matter how many rooms are being used or how many people are in each room. Landlords continue to write off these violation charges as just the cost of doing business and their fines are usually recovered in a single night. Housing agencies are now going after the perpetrators by issuing other violations which includes, overcrowding, fire hazards and no secondary exit. However, those who make the necessary repairs often go back to their old ways. To combat this problem the same law makers from the New York City Council have introduced what is being called the Fines Bill. This new legislation, which is similar to the earlier bill of a few years ago Intro-534, would charge each building owner a rate based on how many rooms are illegally being used for transient purposes and every night that these violations occur. What really adds weight to the bill is that the rate of violation charges would increase every time landlords are found committing these crimes. Unfortunately, there is no word of when or even if this bill will come up for a vote.
The most profound problem affecting the enforcement of this law is that the office of Mayor Bloomberg seems to be purposely underfunding OSE to the point that they have less than five inspectors, police officers and lawyers at any given time who are in charge of investigation in all five boroughs. As a result, the process of closing down illegal hotel operations has been painfully slow and in many cases, most if not all of the tenants in a given building have either been harassed or evicted from their homes; many of the evictions coming through questionable means. Some now look at the agency as being impotent at its current size, but to date there are no signs that the Mayor’s office is looking to add more funding to the agency.
While things are certainly looking rather sketchy for tenants these days, some within the housing movement are looking at how to push back. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, there are now calls for a city wide rent strike along with pushing forward legislation such as the Fines Bill. With so many New Yorkers living next door to empty apartments or to illegal tourists, or facing eviction, it is time for tenants to finally draw a line in the sand. Part two of this article will focus on solutions on what tenants can do to fight back.
Until next time…