Freeze the rents! Landlords: Open your books!

Testimony submitted to the NYC Rent Guidelines Board Hearing

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I am testifying as a longtime NYC tenant and on behalf of the Freedom Socialist Party, a community advocacy group with an organizing center in Central Harlem.

It is vitally important that the Rent Guidelines Board in its June 23 vote authorize a 0% increase. Any other amount for 1- or 2-year leases would add hardship to the lives of tenants, especially the elderly, disabled, low-income or other most-in-need New Yorkers. 

Despite glowing predictions of an economic recovery, New York City residents are facing an unpredictable future. It is clear that any resurgence of the economy will be based on a continuation of poverty-level wages for millions of New Yorkers.

Unfortunately, the landlords this year are scraping the bottom of the barrel for justifications to raise rents as much as 15-20% percent. In this, they are following an all too widespread pattern of using the Covid-19 pandemic to justify ripping off tenants. This includes claims of higher utility charges due to working from home; the costs of sanitizing buildings to eliminate Covid-19 contamination; and the longstanding complaint that union wages for building maintenance personnel cut into the profits the landlords hold sacred. These allegations remain just that — allegations. To all this I say, “Open the books” and put all landlord data on the table so that the Rent Guidelines Board and tenants alike can review the veracity of what landlords are claiming in this year’s deliberations.

The multi-billion-dollar landlord caste has gotten a free ride for more than two decades! They’ve reaped a steady stream of profits by socking it to tenants with major capital improvement schemes, substantial rent increases and a continuing erosion of the rent-stabilized stock through apartment deregulation maneuvers. Landlords perennially lobby state legislators to help them line their pockets at the expense of tenants. To me it is appalling to witness landlords claiming to support federal rent relief — not to help poor and working people struggling to keep a roof over their heads, but to enrich themselves.

To conclude, I urge the Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents for the next two years. Landlords can easily afford to give the true sufferers from the current economic downturn the possibility of taking a step toward recovery.

Stephen Durham
Freedom Socialist Party
Freedom Hall
113 West 128 Street
Harlem, New York 10027
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