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Hey Hudson Valley, Rent Too High? FREEZE It


On June 14th, New York lawmakers made a last minute move to extend and enhance a 1974 law protecting and stabilizing rents in the Hudson Valley. One day before existing NY rent regulations were set to expire, New York State lawmakers approved the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law later that day. The law included major reforms in the state’s affordable housing laws with sweeping tenant protections which are intended to tilt the balance of power in favor of renters vial the regulated housing market.

As reported in The River, an online news service covering politics, culture and life in the Hudson Valley, the most promising aspect of the law for housing reform advocates is that it allows municipalities throughout New York State to to “opt in” on rent stabilization laws that have only applied to New York City and its surrounding suburbs.

The River explained “The 2019 Act expands on and revamps the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 (ETPA), which extended rent stabilization laws and regulations from New York City to municipalities in Rockland, Westchester, and Nassau counties with vacancy rates below five percent. (“Rent stabilization” is a more flexible measure than “rent control,” which puts a hard cap on rent increases in certain qualifying buildings.) The ETPA also included a “sunset provision,” which meant the act had to be renewed every few years. This is eliminated in the new package, which makes the changes permanent.”

“The headline-grabbing component of the law has been its changes to the rules governing the nearly one million rent-regulated apartments in and around New York City. The legislation eliminates or shrinks many of the loopholes that city landlords have long used to increase rents and remove rent-regulated apartments from the system, including limiting rent increases after Major Capital Improvements, ending the “vacancy bonus” that allowed landlords to boost rents by as much as 20 percent, and capping the costs of Individual Apartment Improvements that can be passed on to incoming tenants.”

The law has many other provisions that favor renters statewide, including restricting rent increases for mobile homes, restricting eviction practices, and keeping security deposits limited to one month’s rent. The law makes unlawful eviction a Class A misdemeanor, and bans the use of tenant blacklists screening potential renters.

Landlords must provide at least 30 days notice of upcoming rent increases above 5%. The law also allows the courts to delay evictions by up to one year in instances where renters can’t reasonably find similar residences in the same neighborhood or if the eviction would cause “extreme hardship.”

The intent of the law is to help fight growing gentrification which has been sweeping the Hudson Valley in communities such as Beacon, Hudson, Catskill and Hudson. Several upstate municipalities feeling rising gentrification have already signaled willingness to join the program.

The law also addresses a shortage of affordable housing, including low vacancy rates in the rental market. A 2017 Ulster County housing survey by the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) found that only four municipalities in the county—Plattekill, Rochester, Saugerties, and the Town of Ulster—had vacancy rates above five percent. New Paltz was at 0.95 percent, and Kingston, where more than half of residents rent, had a vacancy rate of just 1.12 percent. The study also found that over half of Ulster County residents pay at least 30 percent of their income for housing, categorizing them as “severely cost-burdened.”

Whether the law keeps rents more affordable and encourages a more affordable marketplace for renters, or creates stagnation as established tenants cling to rent-controlled units, while landlords charge newcomers even higher rates to make up the difference remains as it does in New York City remains to be seen. But at least in the short term, stabilized rents can only help the thousands of New York citizens who currently lease their home.


 

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