Ending Vacancy Decontrol Would Preserve Our Housing Stock

Ending Vacancy Decontrol
Would Preserve Our Housing Stock

Landlord lobbyists have worked hard to spread misinformation about the effect that rent regulation has on the quality of our housing stock, with the hope of elimiating regulations. They have suggested that rent-regulation discourages investment in existing housing, which is not true. In fact, our rent regulation system provides financial incentives for landlords to make improvements to regulated units, which is not the case for unregulated units. Also, the protections against unjust evictions provided through rent regulation are essential for viable tenant-enforcement of the housing maintenance code, a key element in the preservation of our existing housing.

The housing shortage in New York’s downstate region allows landlords in many neighborhoods to collect high rents even when service and maintenance is inadequate. The primary concern for low-income families is finding an apartment they can afford, and when options are few, they do not have the luxury of simply moving to a new apartment if conditions in their building decline. When tenants are unable to get their landlords to make necessary repairs or provide adequate heat and hot water, often their only recourse is to initiate a case in housing court.

In rent-regulated buildings, tenants are protected from being evicted without good cause, are thus they are able to enforce the housing maintenance code without fear of retribution from their landlords. In unregulated apartments, however, renters are often afraid to press for important repair work or take landlords to housing court, out of fear that doing so may risk their ability to keep the apartment. In unregulated units, landlords can terminate a tenancy at the end of any lease term, and tenants who complain about poor services can be easily replaced, even if conditions remain poor, since demand for housing far outstrips supply. By consequence, renters in unregulated or deregulated apartments are less likely to complain about building conditions, and this contributes to the deterioration of our housing stock as a whole.

While rent regulation is essential to maintaining housing conditions for tenants in place, it also promotes maintenance and improvements to apartments that become vacant. Our system of rent-regulation encourages investment by allowing landlords to increase rents in regulated apartments when improvements are made. Vacancy decontrol, however, removes the incentive for landlords to invest in their propertties. Once an apartment is deregulated, the rents can rise dramatically based solely on market conditions. In areas experiencing rapid gentrification, landlords can hike rents by hundreds of dollars without even applying on a fresh coat of paint. This is exactly what occurred when the New York State legislature enacted full vacancy decontrol in 1971. A 1974 report by the Temporary State Commission on Living Costs and the Economy, appointed by Governor Rockefeller, found that while vacancy decontrol had resulted in average rent increases of 52 percent, it also led to disinvestment in the housing stock. After vacancy decontrol was enacted in 1971, there was a 30 percent drop in renovation expenditures, since the supply of affordable housing was so small that landlords were able to impose massive vacancy rent increases without making improvements.This was one reason among many why the State re-imposed rent-regulations by enacting the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974.

The future of affordable, decent housing in New York depends on the preservation of rent-regulated apartments.This is why it is so important to repeal vacancy decontrol now!

Source: NYS Division of Housing and Community Renewal,“Rent Regulation After 50 Years,” 1993

first published by Met Council on Housing: June 23, 2009