Housing activists urge end to rent-hike loophole

NEW YORK — The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) held three simultaneous hearings this week in Manhattan, White Plains and Mineola on Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to close a loophole in the housing laws that allowed landlords to raise rents drastically when they leave the Mitchell-Lama affordable housing program. Mitchell-Lama tenants, housing activists and elected officials testified in support of the proposed regulation.

Jenny Laurie, testifying on behalf of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, said, “I have come to the conclusion that the only landlords who use the ‘unique and peculiar’ provisions in the law are those who are trying to pry long-term lower-income tenants out of their affordable apartments so that the apartments can be rented at deregulated rent levels.”

Shannon Flarity, aide to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, told the hearing, “The ‘unique or peculiar circumstance’ provision of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 was not written to allow entire buildings in the Mitchell-Lama program to be brought up to market rate when a landlord decides to leave the program.”

Flarity said the provision was meant to deal with “truly unique” circumstances resulting in an apartment having an artificially and unreasonably low rent, such as an apartment being brought back into the housing market after having been rented to a superintendent or family member.

“Being part of a state housing program such as Mitchell-Lama is plainly not a ‘unique or peculiar circumstance,’” she said. “The proposed regulatory change will bring practice back in line with the original intent of the law.”

Eva Rippeteau, aide to state Sen. Martin Connor, said 24 buildings with about 5,000 units are currently applying to raise rents significantly under the “unique and peculiar” loophole.

Closing the loophole means thousands of affordable houses will remain affordable, allowing many families to stay in homes they have been living in for decades.

New York City Councilwoman Gail Brewer pointed to Assembly Bill A7811 and Senate Bill S5284, both currently in committee, “which would place all buildings into rent stabilization without ‘unique and peculiar’ increases.” She added, “I certainly support a moratorium on all buyouts until an affordable housing preservation is in effect.”

jdelgado @cpusa.org