[Scroll down for a statement from Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and updated details about the deal.]
Following weeks of protests and rallies, the drama surrounding rent reform appears to be coming to an end. Housing activists said they are planning to be briefed in Albany Tuesday by Democratic legislators on what could be the final version of a rent reform bill.
“They have a two-house deal,” Michael McKee, a veteran tenant lobbyist, told Gothamist, referring to an agreement between Senate and Assembly members.
McKee, however, said he did not know any details yet. Word of a deal was also spreading on Twitter.
The Assembly and Senate are in agreement on a rent regulation package, according to people familiar with the plan. They’re making some tweaks to the final bill. But details are expected today. https://t.co/xdP5uHWF85
— Josefa Velasquez (@J__Velasquez) June 11, 2019
NY senate, assembly discussing possible agreement (just btw the houses) on rent control laws, sources say.
— Yancey Roy (@YanceyRoy) June 11, 2019
Democrats have spent weeks deliberating over a package of nine bills that seeks to protect tenants by eliminating provisions and loopholes that allow landlords to effect large rent hikes and evict tenants.
McKee and other advocates have been pressuring Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly leader Carl Heastie to hash out an agreement on rent reform within the legislature and to keep Governor Andrew Cuomo out of the negotiations. McKee and progressive advocates have accused Cuomo of being beholden to the real estate industry, which has donated millions of dollars to his political campaigns.
Should the Senate and Assembly reach a consensus on rent reform, advocates argue that it would amount to political suicide for the governor not to sign the bill.
The news of a possible deal came on the heels of the tenant activists saying they had planned to meet with Governor Cuomo but later declined. According to two activists, Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All, and McKee, Cuomo’s office on Monday reached out to them and other tenant advocates.
Weaver said she and others were willing to meeting with the governor, but his office suddenly balked when she said she wanted to include rent-regulated tenants from upstate New York. The two sides then began negotiating over who would be invited, according to Weaver.
But after communicating most of the day, she said, the governor's staff "went dark" after around 6:30 p.m. Monday.
By this morning, the tenant advocates decided to call off the meeting. Cuomo's office reached out again, she said, but by then, there was not enough time for the participants to be there.
"From our perspective, it was really important for us to have this meeting with upstate and downstate [tenants] together," she said. "The governor made it difficult to happen."
McKee called the governor’s last-minute meeting request “desperate.”
“It’s too late,” he said. “If he wanted our input, he would have asked us in January.”
The governor, he added, “wants to be able to say he is with the tenants and he’s on our side.”
In response, Caitlin Girouard, Cuomo’s press secretary issued the following statement: "We asked for the meeting with stakeholders, made every effort to accommodate them, and then at the last minute they called off the meeting."
She added: "The Governor has said many times he would sign any rent proposal that passes the Senate and the Senate needs to act because the current laws are set to expire Saturday. Anything else is irrelevant."
Should a deal be struck by the two legislative bodies, it would have be done by Wednesday. Under state law, a bill must be printed and on Senators desks for three days prior to its final passage. Otherwise, the governor must step in to certify the bill, giving him leverage to negotiate.
During his appearance on Alan Chartock's WAMC and a press conference this morning, Cuomo continued to taunt the Senate for being unable to work out a deal, arguing that they did not have the votes to pass all nine bills.
"Whatever the Senate passes will be less than the Assembly bill," Cuomo says. Governor says he's heard a bunch of different things: Senate can pass 8 out of 9. 7 out of 9. Or "All they can pass is an extension of the current law, which would be a devastating defeat."
— Kathryn Brenzel (@katiebrenzel) June 11, 2019
"They [Senate members] are frozen. I'm trying to apply heat to the frozen situation because the law is going to expire," Cuomo says. "The law expires, you have chaos and mayhem."
— Kathryn Brenzel (@katiebrenzel) June 11, 2019
The state's rent laws expire on Saturday.
UPDATE: 4:39 p.m. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has issued the following statement: “The Senate and Assembly have conferenced a rent protections package and we have reached an agreement. We are finalizing this legislation and we will be issuing a joint statement with additional details when it is complete.”
This story has been updated with a statement from Governor Cuomo's office.
UPDATE: 7:32 p.m. According to a source with knowledge about the agreement, here is some of what we know about the new rent laws:
- No more vacancy decontrol and vacancy bonus, which allowed landlords to impose large rent hikes and deregulate apartments once they were vacated.
- Preferential rents will be permanent. If a landlord elected to offer a tenant a rent lower than the legal regulated rent, he or she can no longer raise the rent to that maximum during lease renewals. Instead, annual rent-regulated increases decided by the Rent Guideline Boards will be based off the original preferential rent.
- Renovation increases are capped. Landlords seeking to reimburse themselves for major capital improvements, or MCIs, can raise rents no higher than 2% a year. Those applying for individual apartment increases, or IAIs, now face a $15,000 cap on renovations for each apartment — and they can only apply for reimbursement once every 15 years.
- Outside of New York City, towns and cities across the state can opt-in to rent-stabilization. The only catch is that each municipality must determine that they have a net vacancy rate that is less than 5%, which is the definition of a "housing emergency."
- Regulations governing coop and condo conversions will be strengthened. Tenant advocates had argued that the current laws made it too easy for landlords to convert apartments to owner units.
- The four-year "look back" rule become a six-year rule. Now tenants can request to look at their rent history going back as far as six years. But if there is suspicion of fraud, tenants can ask for rent bills going back even farther in time.
- "Owner-use evictions" are now limited to one apartment per building. Under the current law, landlords are able to evict tenants out of one or more units if they want to use the apartments for themselves or a family member.
- No sunset on rent laws. Rent laws will no longer expire, meaning lawmakers will not be forced to rehash these same rules in another few years.
With so many renter-friendly provisions set to become law, you might be wondering: so what didn't the tenant advocates get?
- No good cause eviction. It's not a surprise that this bill — which would have applied rent stabilization to smaller buildings and protect tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent in certain cases — got left off the final package. Both Governor Cuomo and the Assembly notably failed to embrace this provision, arguing it was too far-reaching.
- Apartments lost to deregulation will not be re-regulated. An estimated 300,000 units been deregulated since the 1997 vacancy decontrol law was passed.