Board votes to freeze rent for rent-controlled apartments in NYC amid COVID-19

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The Rent Guidelines Board voted Wednesday night to freeze rent for the third time in seven years for rent-stabilized apartments.

The annual vote typically ends with neither side happy. But this year, because of COVID-19, there was no raucous meeting in the East Village like usual.

Instead, the board voted virtually to freeze rents for 1-year leases and for the first year of 2-year leases -- which is a win for tenant advocates.

"A lot of residents have lost their jobs and as much as one of the theories that people are using, well they can use their unemployment right to pay for rent? But unemployment is going towards food, towards electricity, utilities," tenant advocate Paloma Lara said.

Lara pointed out many low-income tenants also have jobs considered essential, disqualifying them for unemployment benefits.

Tenants had even argued for rent rollbacks because of pandemic.

"Renters have never faced hardship like this," said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. "They desperately need relief and that's why we fought for this rent freeze. Now, more renters than ever before will get help keeping a roof over their heads. This is one step of many we have to take to get families through this crisis-but it's a big one."

For 2-year leases, during the second year, landlords can bump rent up by 1 percent and Lara said landlords are making huge profits.

But some landlords say they're not all wealthy billionaire corporate owners.

The owner a building in Chinatown said a rent freeze would put his livelihood in jeopardy.

"A lot of people don't realize that people of color and black owners exist," said landlord Jan Lee. "There's this myth that all of New York is owned by corporate giants. That's not actually true. In neighborhoods like mine and in neighborhoods where there's people of color, they actually own those buildings and they house people of color. And we're the ones who are creating stability right now. If we are gone, the city becomes a very ugly and expensive place."

Lee is a third-generation Chinese-American landlord. His commercial tenants haven't paid rent for several months now.

"To call for a rent freeze without calling for a property tax freeze, or even pushing back on the property tax deadline is completely irresponsible," Lee said.

And on that point, both sides agree. Lara says if a landlord can show hardship, the city should help.

"We have to figure out a way that we can meet halfway," Lara said.

There are roughly one million rent-stabilized apartments throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The changes go into effect Oct. 1 and will last through Sept. of 2021.

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