Tenants & Landlords Fight Over Proposed Rent Hikes At RGB Public Comment Meeting

To nobody’s surprise, a June 12th public hearing for proposed rent hikes--issued by the Rent Guidelines Board--saw landlords and renters lined up in bitterly opposed camps. Increases as high as 7 percent are being considered. It was the sole hearing for Manhattan, and will affect rent-stabilized apartments. The raw feelings are unlikely to subside before the final vote on June 21st.

| 14 Jun 2023 | 03:58

During a public comment meeting of the Rent Guidelines Board on Monday, June 12th, landlords, tenants, and politicians patiently waited for their brief allotted time on camera to express despair at the entrenched position of the other side.

The meeting was held via Zoom, thereby preventing the stormy in-person clashes of a public hearing last month, when the board said it was considering hikes on two-year leases of up to 7 percent.

At that May 2nd meeting, disaffected tenant activists had stormed the stage in an attempt to publicly shame the owner-members of the committee.

Local politicians kicked off the testimony, and based on the content of their statements it appeared they had gotten an earful from constituents dissatisfied with the proposals the RGB said it is considering.

District 2 Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who represents the East Village and parts of Midtown East, said that “it would be important to roll back or freeze rents to assure that working class and legacy residents can afford to live here. Decisions made by the rent guidelines board impacts the collective identity of our city.” She also cited a 2023 report issued by the Fund for New York City and United Way that indicated “50 percent of New York households are struggling to cover their basic needs, and that ‘almost 80 percent of households below the True Cost of Living are considered housing cost burdened,’ meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.”

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine (noting that his testimony had the shared stamp of District 4 Councilmember Keith Powers, who represents Stuyvesant Town and parts of the Upper East Side) said that “this is not the time for a rent increase, for the simple reason that tenants are facing enormous pain. They are facing rising prices for all manner of consumer goods, and many are seeing their wages stagnate. We can not, in this environment, add so many burdens to so many families.”

Unsurprisingly, landlords held up a very different rationale in their testimony. Andrew Hoffman said that “we need reasonable increases because owner expenses continue to go up,” adding that he thinks property taxes are the largest culprit. He also voiced his frustration over contract negotiations with the local branch of the Service Employees International Union, 32BJ.

Another landlord, Leon Goldenberg, seemed to doubt whether tenants should be petitioning the Rent Guidelines Board at all: “Whether a tenant can or cannot afford rent increases is really not the job of the RGB—that should be borne by the public as a whole. When people can’t afford to buy milk or eggs, the government gives out food stamps. They don’t tell grocers to lower their prices.”

Finally, tenants themselves had a chance at protesting the rent increase. Jeremy Kaplan, who mentioned that he been in a rent-stabilized unit for 12 years, said that he believed landlord testimony was unduly weighted towards small landlords. “We’ve been hearing a lot about small landlords. Small landlords do not own the majority of the rent-regulated apartments. Only 9 percent are owned by one person, [and] a lot of these landlords speaking don’t speak for the majority,” which he then clarified included himself (he lives in a unit with a large corporate landlord).

Kaplan went on to say that he found it “unconscionable to put these people’s numbers and data—people’s profits—over the fact that people need stable housing. That’s what rent stabilization is for. A five percent increase for corporate landlords is nothing to them, but [means] evictions for so many tenants.”

It remains to be seen whether the ire of Kaplan and his fellow renters will result in any material decrease in the proposed rent hike. The final vote on the 21st will be held at Cooper Union, 7 p.m. EST.