Rent 2002 Campaign Is Moving Forward

Guest Commentary

Volume CII, No. 6June, 2002

Tom Waters, New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition

The Rent 2002 Campaign to preserve New York’s system of rent control and rent stabilization is picking up steam.

The campaign is organized by the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition together with 150 co-sponsors, including Local 802 and 23 other labor unions.

The New York State Assembly has already passed bills to renew rent control and rent stabilization until June 15, 2008, and to repeal a provision in the laws that has allowed the decontrol of 84,000 apartments since 1993.

On the Senate side, Senator Frank Padavan of Queens has introduced matching legislation to do the same thing. Grassroots pressure from tenants is steadily increasing the number of Republican co-sponsors for the Padavan bills, especially in the suburban counties. Because the Senate has a Republican majority, this support is pivotal.

Both Democratic candidates for governor, Andrew Cuomo and State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, have said they support the campaign’s goals.

The stage is now set for a strong campaign targeting Governor George Pataki and the State Senate leadership to demand that the rent laws be both renewed and strengthened.

Rent control and rent stabilization are cornerstones of affordable housing in New York City and the suburban counties of Nassau, Westchester and Rockland. The 1.1 million apartments subject to the rent laws make up the area’s largest stock of housing that is affordable to working people — the largest by far.

Without rent laws on the books, landlords would be free to raise rent by any amount every time a lease comes up for renewal. They would also be free to evict tenants at the end of every lease for any reason, or for no reason at all.

In almost every neighborhood in the city and suburbs, an end to rent control and rent stabilization would mean huge rent increases for working families that are already struggling to make ends meet. And in some neighborhoods, it would mean that many families – even whole communities – would be forced to move, making room for a new group of tenants who can afford higher rents.

Without rent control and rent stabilization, where would New York City’s musicians and other artists be able to afford to live?

The Rent 2002 Campaign strategy is focused on renewing the laws and strengthening them in one very important area. For the past nine years, landlords have been able to completely decontrol a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment that becomes vacant when a tenant moves out, dies or is evicted. All the landlord has to do is to spend some money renovating the apartment. The law has always allowed landlords to raise rents based on renovations while apartments are vacant. But since 1993, landlords have also been allowed to decontrol an apartment completely if they spend enough to justify an increase to $2,000 a month.

At the time that lawmakers created this loophole in the rent laws, they said that it would only affect rich tenants in “luxury” apartments. But today it is affecting poor and working tenants in neighborhoods all over the city and suburbs.

Why is this? For two reasons. One, the landlord never has to actually charge $2,000 a month to decontrol an apartment. He only has to say that he legally could have charged that much. And two, no government agency checks to see whether the landlord has actually spent enough to legally raise the rent that high. In most cases, he only has to say that he has.

Over the last nine years, this process has resulted in the decontrol of at least 84,000 apartments. And the rate of decontrol is getting faster every year. If tenants don’t close this loophole, the entire rent control and rent stabilization system will be lost in just a few years. That is why tenants, unions and other organizations are demanding that the governor and state legislature put an end to vacancy decontrol based on the amount of rent.


An important part of the Rent 2002 Campaign strategy is the poster inserted into the center of the May issue of Allegro, which reads “Stronger Rent Laws Now!” Tenants & Neighbors, Local 802, and other organizations are also distributing the poster as a separate item.

Tenants throughout New York City and Nassau, Westchester and Rockland counties are putting these posters in their windows, where they can be seen by people in the street.

This will send a loud and clear message that renewal of the rent laws and ending vacancy decontrol are vitally important to the millions of people who live in rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments and their supporters.

If you would like to obtain a poster for your window or multiple copies of the poster for your friends’ and neighbors’ windows, or if you would like to learn about more ways to get involved in the Rent 2002 Campaign, please call Milton Charles at (212) 608-4320, ext. 304, or Stephanie Anderson at extension 310. Charles is a Local 802 staff member working with Tenants & Neighbors on the campaign. Anderson is a Tenants & Neighbors staff member.