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Queens Chronicle

Queens tenants, owners plead their cases

City’s Rent Guidelines Board hears testimony; 1 percent increase OK’d

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Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:20 am, Thu Jul 3, 2014.

After hearing the impassioned testimonies of rent-stabilized tenants and small building owners in all five boroughs, the Rent Guidelines Board voted this week for its lowest rent hike ever, a 1 percent increase for one-year leases and 2.75 percent for two-year leases.

The adjustment will impact renewal leases for apartments, lofts, hotels and other housing units subject to the Rent Stabilization Law and the Tenant Protection Act.

Last Thursday, Queens tenants and building owners came out to make their cases to the board at a Queens Borough Hall session.

The de Blasio administration had backed a rent freeze and the board considered a zero to 3 percent increase for one-year leases and a .5 to 4.5 percent for two-year leases. The tenants favored a freeze due to rising costs in the city and a struggling economy, while the landlords claimed that they could not maintain their buildings without a rent increase because of high taxes, water rates, fuel costs and other operating expenses.

Many renters came with “zero percent” signs and some brought signs in their native languages. Others yelled, “The rent is too damn high.”

Regina Shandley, a tenant in Woodside, shared the sentiment as she described her rent-stabilized complex, where people are moving out rapidly to smaller apartments or leaving the city and state.

“Tenants are struggling with a lack of income, lack of jobs, laughable Social Security income, higher prices for food, all of that and rents are too damn high,” Shandley said, as she advocated for a rent freeze. “We’re losing services, we’re losing staff and we’re told if we’re not happy just move.”

Similarly, Janet Henne said that the owner of her building, one of the largest in New York “has managed to shove just about everybody out” within the last three years by “using every dirty trick in the book.” She said that only one-third of the rent-stabilized tenants are left and the others have fled New York City.

“I was born and raised in New York and New York is being destroyed by the landlords for a long time,” Henne said. “Whether it’s apartments, houses, small businesses. They’re destroying all small businesses. I’m for the rent freeze and I’m telling you people are really, really suffering.”

John Rutherford argued that the rent-stabilized housing market should not be “an investment vehicle for corporations” and that the board needs to stop “rubber stamping every rent increase that landlords ask for year after year.” He noted that many tenants in rent-stabilized housing are civil servants who have had to accept contracts with zero percent raises for years “from the same government that never refuses landlords a raise.”

However, many of the small building owners said they did not think it was fair to tar them with the same brush as the corporations.

“Tenants have been misinformed about the rent-stabilized small building owners,” said Antonia Ortiz, the owner of an eight-unit rent-stabilized building. “We are your neighbors and we are living in our own buildings or living in the same community that we own our buildings. We are working class or retired and never wanted to leave our neighborhood.”

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