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The rent regulation debacle: The owner of a small building explains how the new law will hurt her

2019-09-06

Even before this year’s reforms, the law on the books set strict regulations for property owners of private buildings in New York City. Its goal is to strengthen housing affordability, maintain diversity and guarantee fair practices between property owners and tenants. (Hans Pennink/AP)

New York’s progressive lawmakers went to Albany this year with a new majority, claiming a mandate to represent and protect the poor, the sick, the elderly and other vulnerable communities — including renters and those in need of affordable housing. Yet the sweeping new rent stabilization laws) that were passed at the end of session in June actually actively work against New York’s most vulnerable communities.

New York’s rent stabilization laws are not progressive. They are not fair or lawful; they punish private property owners who are trying to improve their buildings and provide New Yorkers with places to live. I know all of this first-hand, because as the owner of a small property, I have lived through the harsh real-world realities of rent stabilization laws in New York City.

Even before this year’s reforms, the law on the books set strict regulations for property owners of private buildings in New York City. Its goal is to strengthen housing affordability, maintain diversity and guarantee fair practices between property owners and tenants. In practice, however, for over 50 years, the statutes accomplished none of these goals. Meantime, it prohibits small-building owners from living in or using their properties for their own use.

I am a disabled, single-building owner in Brooklyn. In 2014, my husband became terminally ill after years of fighting chronic illnesses, including congestive heart failure and COPD. To help alleviate his suffering, we had in-home hospice care and we took steps to move into the rent stabilized first-floor apartment of our building so that he wouldn’t have to walk up and down the stairs.

My husband and I applied to take over the first-floor unit and sought out the government for protection. But upon bringing the case to housing court, we were denied our rights to reclaim the unit under the provisions of the law, and were forced to remain upstairs.

In the months following the denial of our application, I watched my husband struggle to walk up our stairs every day. Because of the Rent Stabilization Law, I was barred from choosing what to do with my own property to help alleviate the suffering of my dying husband.

Shortly after my husband’s passing, I developed serious physical ailments of my own. I began to have problems with my knees and I started to experience crippling nerve pain and back pain. Again, I applied to claim the first-floor unit of my building. Again, I was denied in housing court. I recently had to undergo total knee replacement surgery and I am still struggling to walk up the two flights to my apartment. To this day, despite my disability, I live in my upstairs apartment.

The narrative pushed by supporters of this regulatory scheme is that New York’s property owners are rich and greedy co-conspirators in an age-old plot to increase profits and force unsuspecting tenants out of their homes. We’re blamed as the reason for New York’s exorbitant rent prices, and a key force for injustice and inequality in the city.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of us are middle-class, single-building owners such as myself who depend on rents for income and survival. Our decisions regarding our properties are not driven by greed or profit, but necessity. We seek basic justice and fairness only.

With the 2019 reforms, rather than solve the housing affordability crisis and protect the rights of the poor, sick and elderly, the state has declared war on us. The 2019 amendments — which impose some of the strictest regulations against property owners in the country — are guaranteed to worsen these problems. They will constrain inventory, raising the price for market rate housing for everyone. And by limiting the ability to do repairs, they will lead to the deterioration of the housing stock.

It’s clear that our state lawmakers have no interest in fairness or justice, despite the lofty rhetoric. Which is why property owners like me decided to file suit against the laws in federal court.

Hopefully, by drawing attention to these injustices, the lawsuit will force lawmakers to get real about their supposedly progressive principles and find thoughtful solutions to the housing unaffordability crisis, rather than shift the blame to unsuspecting small-property owners. New York’s rent regulations are unfair and unlawful and we are looking forward to our day in court.

Nugent-Miller owns a multi-family building in Brooklyn and is plaintiff in the lawsuit that the Rent Stabilization Association and Community Housing Improvement Program filed in federal court in July to overturn the Rent Stabilization Law.