Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Daily News Sides with Landlord Against Rent Regulation

Landlord James Harmon wants the Supreme Court to take his appeal and overturn rent regulation in New York.  Having inherited half of an apartment building from his parents, he bought out his brother's share so he could be the sole landlord. Now he's objecting to the rent regulated tenants who occupy a few of the units in his building.  
  1. Those tenants are entitled to lease renewals (as long as they meet their obligations as tenants), 
  2. Family members who live with them for at least 2 years before the original tenants vacate are entitled to get the apartment in their own name, and 
  3. Because regulated tenants are entitled to renewal leases at a rate fixed by the Rent Guidelines Board, they also have the right to complain without fear of being evicted.
But Harmon complains that he is not getting market rent and that New York has no business regulating rents - presumably unlike restaurants and supermarkets, insurance, clean water, utilities, and other essential services.

With  a declared housing emergency in NYC, with a vacancy rate in all rental apartments of 3.12%, we need rent regulation to level the playing field between landlords and tenants - whose median income is around $36,000 a year!

But the NY Daily News agrees with Harmon and wants the Court to take the case, and "review" rent regulation. 
Tell the NY Daily News that NYC needs rent regulation - and Harmon should stop trying to undo decades of precedent that acknowledge government's need to regulate for the public good.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rent Guidelines Board hearing May 1st - Be There!


 The Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) holds its 

Preliminary Vote on rent increases on 

Monday, May 1, 2012 at 5:30 PM at Cooper Union

The RGB has voted for unaffordable rent increases for NYC’s 99% despite reports that most landlords (the 1%) are doing quite well. Do you struggle to get basic repairs? Is your landlord deregulating apartments to charge “market” rents? Demand an end to unfair rent hikes.

Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Sign up to speak : call the RGB at 212-385-2934

And even if you don't want to speak, come and support those who do!

Directions (MTA Transit Info at 718-330-1234):
Subway:  “6” train to Astor Place or “R” train to East 8th Street and walk 1 block east to Cooper Union.

Bus: From south of E 8th St, take  a  cross town bus to Park Row or Bowery & change to “103 bus” uptown to E 8th St.

Bus: From north of E 8th St, take a cross town bus to Lexington Ave/3rd Ave. & take “101,102 or 103 bus” downtown to E 8th St.

For more information and tips on preparing for the hearings:
Tenants & Neighbors 212-608-4320,
Met Council on Housing 212-979-6238,
For SRO tenants: call Goddard Riverside SRO Law Project 212-799-9638

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gov. Cuomo Succombs on Redistricting

The Opinion Pages 
Editorial   ( Excerpted)

Gov. Cuomo Succumbs

By agreeing to a deeply flawed deal with state lawmakers, Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave in to Albany’s secretive and undemocratic ways of doing business.

Despite repeated promises that he would veto gerrymandered districts drawn by legislators, the governor broke that vow and quietly signed the law that will allow unfair legislative elections in New York for the next 10 years. By approving the Legislature’s districts, he has now made it far more difficult for the courts to revise these defective maps. 

Mr. Cuomo and his supporters argue that a veto of the distorted maps would have stalled his legislative priorities. But he could have used his popular support among voters and his political muscle to stop this outrageously antidemocratic redistricting process, which rewards the worst elements of Albany’s political culture. He says his decision is a reasonable compromise, but it’s hard to think that what he got is worth another decade of Albany’s status quo. 

. . . . 

Mr. Cuomo also convinced lawmakers to start the long process of amending the State Constitution in two troubling ways. One amendment would create a bipartisan commission to design redistricting after the 2020 census. But that proposal is too flawed to work and gives the final say back to the Legislature. This commission would create a highly partisan process that could result in gridlock and more litigation. The lawmakers did, however, pass a stopgap redistricting bill that is slightly better than the amendment. That law would go into effect if the amendment doesn’t pass and would give the Legislature a little less say over districts maps. 

The other constitutional amendment — one that would allow as many as seven full-fledged casinos across the state — deserves even more public scrutiny. To change the Constitution, these two amendments must be passed again next year. After that, the state voters must approve them. 

Mr. Cuomo concluded this deal in one, frantic, overnight session that kept the public and even most legislators in the dark. “We have been brought back to the ugly days of the past,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. She and many of her fellow Senate Democrats marched out of the Senate chamber at one point to protest the lack of debate. But since Democrats are in the minority in the Senate, the bills passed swiftly anyway. On Thursday after the votes, Mr. Cuomo said the deal was designed to “make New York government work.” The truth is, this deal guarantees that the back-room politics that have infected Albany for generations will govern for another decade.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Redistricting Affects Our Laws

From the Albany Times Union

NOTE: As usual, Jimmy Vielkind does a great job explaining Albany politics

Redistricting’s denouement: Senate Democrats walk out

Posted on  March 15, 2012 at 1:58 am by Jimmy Vielkind, Capitol bureau 


ALBANY, 1:55 AM — It’s after midnight here at the Capitol, but lawmakers are still pushing forward with a flurry of bills tied to approval of new state legislative districts.

The last bill of the evening morning will deal with restructuring the state’s pension system. As of midnight, it hadn’t yet been printed, but Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, told me the plan was still to soldier on. Some members in his Democrat-dominated chamber were less-than-eager to vote for the measure, which has been condemned by labor unions.
“I don’t know if I’m in the tank,” one told me. “I’d like to vote no, but sometimes that’s not how it goes.”
Lawmakers have spent the last several hours debating bills, including the lines themselves. They were drawn by LATFOR, a legislative task force jointly controlled by Democrats who dominate the Assembly and Republicans who hold a bare majority in the Senate and barely different from a first set of maps that Gov. Andrew Cuomo criticized as “hyper partisan.”

Most of the criticism has centered on the Senate’s lines, drawn by the majority Republicans. They create a 63rd seat stretching from Amsterdam to Kingston, cleaving Albany County in half. It is intended for Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, the wealthy head of an eponymous home-building company who, the hope is, will be able to finance his own campaign.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Harmon Case Obscures Facts About Rent Regulation

NY Times

Wars Over Regulation of Rent Are Only a Sideshow

Egregious abuses of rent regulation and rent stabilization tend to obscure the fact that the system does not disproportionately benefit the affluent.


With a certain regularity, New Yorkers are given the opportunity to engage in a satisfyingly maddening if futile pastime: decrying the obscenities of rent regulation.
TEST CASE The landlords want help from the Supreme Court.

Readers’ Comments

The narratives present themselves readily: Last year we learned that for nearly two decades, Faye Dunaway had a rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side for which she paid about $1,000 a month. Many of us know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who has managed to live a Woody Allen life in a sprawling West Side classic-six for monthly carrying costs that would seem only minimally to exceed the cable bill. In some of these instances, the lucky jerk unfairly receiving the city’s largess has managed to save up so much money that August will find him at his second place in the Berkshires or the South of France.
These accounts allow us to regard instances of lunacy and system failure as representative of the norm. The latest case to command attention, ignite furies and lend credence to these particular urban mythologies revolves around the efforts of a former federal prosecutor, James D. Harmon Jr., to overturn the city’s rent-stabilization laws based on personal grievance. Mr. Harmon and his wife, Jeanne, as my colleague Anemona Hartocollis has reported, are the owners of a brownstone on West 76th Street, off Central Park, and have three rent-stabilized apartments in their building, one of them occupied by a tenant who pays $951.22 a month for a one-bedroom. During the past two decades, the Harmons claim in court documents, they have been effectively financing the $1,500 monthly mortgage payments the tenant makes on her Long Island weekend home.
If the tenant were a puppeteer or a composer of avant-garde operettas, we could rationalize her good fortune by arguing that the city ought to be a place hospitable to eccentric creativity. But, indefensibly, the Harmons’ tenant, The Wall Street Journal reported last week, toils in the remunerative and mundane realm of executive recruiting.
The couple have lost two prior legal battles to reverse the laws that keep their tenants in place. Currently, though, Mr. Harmon is in the middle of petitioning the United States Supreme Court to hear his case, in part on the grounds that the state’s rent-regulation statutes violate the due process clauses of the 5th and 14th Amendments. The past week had the city, the state and Mr. Harmon, who is representing himself along with co-counsel, filing briefs to the court, which will presumably decide on it soon. And this coming week, the City Council is expected to ask the state to renew the regulations, and the state is expected, as usual, to comply.
That makes Mr. Harmon angry. “Either there is such a thing as private property or there isn’t,” he told me. “I’m 68; my wife is 67. We’d like to plan for our future such as it might be.”
While it requires virtually no effort to sympathize with someone in his position, this kind of story and the conversations it generates tend to obscure the fact that rent stabilization and rent control, despite profound flaws and inefficiencies, do not disproportionately benefit the affluent. According to an analysis of the most recent city data, which date to 2008, by New York University’s Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy, the median income of a New Yorker in a rent-stabilized apartment is $36,000 a year; in Manhattan, it is $50,000.
“Certain types of stabilization can create more integrated communities,” the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser, author of the book “Triumph of the City,” said to me recently. “New York is a more diverse place because of rent stabilization, and I say that as a staunch and steadfast enemy of rent stabilization.”
Of the city’s 1,063,000 rent-regulated units, approximately 41,000 are in the hands of households making $150,000 a year or more. If we hired private investigators to examine the ranks of those households, we would surely find egregious abuses of the system — unmarried lawyers making $350,000 salaries — but we would presumably also find families of five living on less than half of that. (And it hardly bears remarking that $175,000 in New York City is not the same as $175,000 in Jackson, Miss.)
Moreover, according to the city data, approximately 240,000 rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units are occupied by those making $15,000 or less a year.
What a fixation with rent regulation often does is deflect our attention from other policies and economic perversions that keep New York City’s housing from being affordable to a broad stretch of its population. More than half of New Yorkers, whether they are in rent-stabilized apartments or those priced at market rates, spend above 30 percent of their income on rent, according to the Furman Center; 25 percent to 30 percent has long been the guideline. Nearly a third of those in rent-stabilized apartments are paying more than 50 percent in rent. A few weeks ago, I wrote about a formerly homeless man whose salary was insufficient to pay for a $963-a-month one-bedroom apartment in an undesirable part of the South Bronx.
In his provocative new e-book, aptly titled “The Rent Is Too Damn High,” the Slate columnist Matthew Yglesias points to, among other things, all the zoning restrictions that keep New York and other cities from growing taller and accommodating greater numbers.
It is easy to walk around a neighborhood like Cobble Hill in Brooklyn and never think about the extent to which rows and rows of beautifully preserved, untouchable low-rise brownstones contribute to the city’s perennial housing shortage. And, anyway, it’s a lot more fun to blame Faye Dunaway.

New York State's Attorney General and New York City's Law Department have submitted briefs urging the Supreme Court not to hear the case at all - since the Supreme Court has held for many decades that a government may limit rents. See the memo written by Tim Collins, former executive director of the Rent Guidelines Board, in Met Council's Tenant/Inquilino. Click here for a copy of the State's brief, and click here for a copy of the City's brief.  

IF the Supreme Court accepts the case, there won't be any decision for at least a year.  But a decision against tenants could mean that a million New York families will be unable to afford their homes.  

Support A.6275

VOCAL, an active member of R3, encourages organizations to support A. 6275, a bill that would cap the rent of New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS at 30% of income.  This bill is part of R3's legislative program for 2012. 

Send a letter of support on your group's letterhead to members of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's staff: Simonia Brown at, with a copy to Jim Yates at 

Friday, March 2, 2012

City Council Testimony on Renewing HousingEmergency Declaration

 Sam Stein testified on behalf of R3 before the NY City Council on March 2, 2012 on the importance of renewing the emergency declaration that keeps apartments in pre-1974 buildings rent regulated.  Read Sam's testimony.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Myths vs. Facts about Rent Regulation