Today’s news:

NY renews rent laws as 7.2 % hike OK’d

The state Legislature has renewed rent regulations in what its major legislative supporters praised but renter advocates generally called a disappointment.

“Despite fierce and well-financed opposition to working families in New York City, we were able to secure important victories for tenants,” said state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) in a statement on his website.

“This is not real rent reform,” said Michael McKee of the Tenants Political Action Committee.

Three days after Albany acted, the Rent Guidelines Board at a tumultuous meeting at Cooper Union Monday in Manhattan, voted to raise rents for one-year leases by 3.75 percent and on two-year leases by 7.25 percent on city apartments.

McKee and many other tenant advocates saw the Legislature’s failure to abolish vacancy decontrol as the weakest part of the renewed rent regulations.

“There is an affordable housing emergency in the city of New York,” said Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), who fought for renewal along with Silver in Albany.

“Each year, more than 10,000 rent-regulated apartments are lost because of loopholes in the rent laws,” Lopez said. “Yet, throughout the regulations, the Senate [Republican] majority repeatedly insisted on a straight extension of the existing rent laws, something that I and my Assembly majority colleagues fiercely opposed. Though short of our goal, this agreement is a victory for our tenants.”

The previous regulations were originally to have lapsed June 15. but Gov. Andrew Cuomo persuaded the legislators to keep negotiating, He insisted that an extension and reforms of the regulations were part of his agenda, including other hot-button issues such as same-sex marriage, which also was approved in a final, dramatic midnight-plus session Friday night.

Among highlights of the state’s rent laws:

• rent regulations are extended for four years

• the tenant income threshold for deregulation is raised from $175,000 to $200,000

• the high rent deregulations threshold is raised from $2,000 to $2,500

• the amount a landlord can increase rent after a capital improvement to an individual apartment is reduced from 1/40 to 1/60 of the cost of the improvement to a building with 35 or more units

• the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal’s authority to regulate the provisions of the act will be enhanced

• a limit of one vacancy increase is allowed per year

Cuomo’s office said the changes in the rent regulations “will help ensure that nearly 100,000 units will stay in the rent-regulations system over the next few years and remain available for working-class New Yorkers. Changes in how improvements are calculated and verified for individual apartments, which will reduce a landlord’s ability to abuse these renovations as a tool to force units out of regulations.”

The rent-regulations renewal were tied to another of Cuomo’s agenda: a property tax cap.

“Working with Gov. Cuomo, we have saved the rent laws and expanded their protections for the first time in nearly two decades,” said Silver. “This is an important victory in our ongoing effort to support working families and ease the affordable housing crisis.”

Back in the city, the rent hikes were the highest since 2008, with landlords complaining of mounting costs, including the rising price of heating oil, water fees and property taxes. The increases will become effective Oct. 1 for renters of apartments through Sept. 30, 2012.

The state Department of Housing and Community Renewal said Queens has 5,359 rent-controlled apartments and 153,352 apartments under rent stabilization.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at timesledgernews@cnglocal.com or phone at 718-260-4536.

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