Rent Laws Expire in Two Months. Let the Political Battle Begin.

HOST INTRO: If you’re a renter in New York City, there’s about a 50/50 chance your apartment is rent-stabilized. But the laws that outline protection for renters expire every four years. When they do, New Yorkers lobby the state legislature. Tenants want to expand renter protections. Landlords want to reduce them. As the bills come up again this spring, both sides are fighting to get their way. Ali Swenson reports.

SWENSON: Gloria Nieves is standing in the courtyard of her big, brick apartment building in Queens. She says she and her neighbors aren’t happy.

NIEVES

Oh god. Water leak. Gas leak. Making people suffer.

SWENSON: Nieves has lived in her rent-stabilized apartment for almost two decades. But she’s not sure how much longer she can stick around. She says the heat and hot water are always going out. And her landlord doesn’t respond to her repair requests. So she decided to join a tenants union.

NIEVES

I pray, and get more energy to continue fighting. You know, it’s like they charge my battery.

SWENSON: When asked about Nieves’s building, her landlord, Silvershore Properties, responded with a statement that tenant complaints aren’t the whole story. The company says it often buys neglected buildings, and when it does, their problems come with them. And those problems aren’t always quick to fix.

But if activists have anything to say about it, this relationship between tenants and their landlords could change soon.

MYRIE

It is a river of housing justice, and like the choir said, “you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

SWENSON: That’s state senator Zellnor Myrie in front of a packed church in Harlem. He’s rallying for a platform lawmakers are calling universal rent control. After speeches, the crowd spills out to march through the streets with huge banners and musical instruments.

((SOUND: Orchestra and chanting. “Fight fight fight, housing is a human right.”

Democrats have a majority in the state senate for the first time in a decade. So tenant advocates hope this might be year to seriously strengthen renter protections. Myrie and his colleagues are trying to pass a total of nine bills. The bills would close loopholes that let landlords raise rents when tenants leave, or when they renovate apartments. Another bill would expand New York City’s rent regulations to the entire state.

MYRIE

Your protections as a tenant should not be dependant on your zip code.

SWENSON: But tenant advocates aren’t the only ones ready to take advantage of rent laws expiring.

CAMPAIGN AD

Albany’s plan means that my costs will be higher than what I take in.

A group with ties to real estate interests in this city is running ads like this, featuring a landlord in the lobby of the building she owns.  

CAMPAIGN AD

I’m not sure how long I can hold onto these buildings and still do right by my tenants.

SWENSON: Bill Eimicke is a former New York State Housing Commissioner. He says both tenants and landlords like the opportunity to revisit the rent laws every four years.

EIMICKE

So there’s kind of a confluence of interests, that if we keep revisiting this, we can move the needle more toward our side of the equation.

SWENSON: But despite the political shifts at the capitol and the energy of tenant groups this year, Eimicke says changes to the the rent laws will probably happen the way they usually do: with a lot of small, behind-the-scenes negotiations.

EIMICKE

It’s not all or nothing. We have a whole body of laws that are in place. You end up with both sides having issues. So it becomes a trade.

SWENSON: Legislators in Albany have until June 15th to debate. Ali Swenson, Columbia Radio News.

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