Lawmakers work to close loophole that could raise prices of rent-stabilized apartments

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NEW YORK — More than 100,000 thousand of New York's coveted rent-stabilized apartments could soon hit market rate rents.  It's thanks to a legal loophole that let's landlords jack up the rent each time an apartment becomes vacant.  Now the Mayor and other lawmakers are hoping to close that loophole before it's too late.

Right now landlords are legally allowed to raise the rent each time the apartment turns over to new renters.  It's a process known as vacancy deregulation and opponents say it's giving landlords a huge incentive to ruin the lives of their tenants by destroying their own apartments.

"They're not repairing, they're not giving lease renewals, they're pushing the tenants out in different ways," said Aura Mejia with the advocacy group Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

Mejia says she constantly hears the horror stories for Sunset Park residents. Landlords destroying apartments, threatening to call immigration or child services all in an attempt to cycle through their apartments as fast as possible to raise the rent and shed stabilized limitations.

"Because they want more money and they know if they move out they're going to deregulate the apartments and be able to ask for more money," said Mejia.

Right now landlords can raise the rent on a rent-stabilized apartment 20 percent each time the apartment turns over.

Once the rent is more than $2,500 a month for the unit, it's no longer considered rent-stabilized, unless the tenant is grandfathered in.

According to new City data, More than 100,000 apartments will likely surge to market rate rents the next time they turn over.

Some areas of the city will lose almost half of their rent stabilized inventory.

In Staten Island's Community Board 1 District more than 300 units would become deregulated.

In the Bronx Community Board 8 District that number doubles to more than 600.

In Queens Community Board 1, which represents Astoria and Long Island City almost 3,500 units could hit market rate.

Brooklyn's Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods could see the cost of more than 6,000 rent-stabilized units skyrocket.

While Manhattan's Community Board 7 has more than 13,000 units on the Upper West Side and in Lincoln Square that could hit market rate.

But these laws, along with many other rent laws, expire June 15th.

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he wants to do away with them once and for all.

“Unless we secure stronger rent laws in the next two weeks, these families will be the last to ever live in these apartments with affordable rents," said Mayor de Blasio. "Thousands of tenants are facing illegal harassment and eviction because there is so much money to be made by flipping a rent-stabilized apartment to market rate. We need to end vacancy decontrol and strengthen these laws to keep our neighborhoods affordable."

Despite the mayor's push, the future of New York City's rent laws will ultimately be decided in Albany.

"These decisions about what goes on with rent in New York are being made by upstate politicians who have no constituents, they have no skin in the game,"  said Nehemiah Bey with Neighbors Helping Neighbors.

But with wealthy developers, who stand to gain so much money from tax breaks and increased rents, Bey says they can corrupt the process by influencing upstate lawmakers.

"That's what we have to stop.  That's how we stop this stop putting so much power in the hands of REBNY and understand that people, human beings, live in these communities, and have families living in these communities, and where do we go?" said Bey.

To help protect tenants from being forced out of their apartments by landlords before the June 15th deadline, the Mayor has partnered with State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to fight the illegal practices through a new Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force.