RENT REGULATION AFTER 50 YEARS An Overview of New York State's Rent Regulated Housing 1993 NEW YORK STATE DIVISION OF HOUSING & COMMUNITY RENEWAL ================================================================ HISTORY OF RENT REGULATION NEW YORK STATE 1943-1993 Nineteen ninety-three marked the fiftieth year in which rent regulations have been in continuous existence in New York State. During these fifty years, the laws have been substantially changed and modified and the location and type of housing subject to regulation periodically altered. The responsibility for administering the rent regulatory system has also shifted between various governmental jurisdictions: l943 to 1950 - Federal l950 to 1962 - State 1962 to 1984* - State/City 1984 to Present - State * The Federal government briefly imposed wage and price controls from August, 1971 through January, 1973. New York State's half century experience with rent regulation is the longest in the nation. The continuation of these regulations has been dictated by the inability of public housing programs or of the private housing market to produce an adequate supply of decent, affordable housing in various municipalities in the State. In these municipalities, government regulations minimize market distortions created by a housing shortage (the net rental vacancy rate being less than 5%). As a result, a temporary emergency measure has been transformed into a stable fixture of New York's housing market. Today, approximately 1.2 million of New York State's 3.3 million rental housing accommodations are subject to rent regulation. The half century history of rent regulation (in fact most New York City residents cannot remember when regulations did not exist) provides a unique perspective in which to view a unique housing market. Federal Rent Controls 1943-1950* * Much of the information concerning the history of rent regulation through 1980 is based upon the "Report of the New York State Temporary Commission on Rental Housing", Volume 1, March, 1980. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Emergency Price Control Act (EPCA) which provided for a universal, nationwide price regulatory system. Price controls were the government's response to inflationary pressures resulting from a fully employed wartime economy that channeled resources exclusively to the war effort. Price controls for rental apartments in residential areas were included in the EPCA. Rents in most counties in the State were placed under Federal regulation. On November 1,1943 the Federal Office of Price Administration issued regulations freezing New York City rents at the March 1, 1943 levels. With the end of the war and the normalization of the national economy, the Emergency Price Control Act was allowed to expire on June 30, 1947. In its place Congress enacted the Federal Housing and Rent Act of 1947 which became effective on July 1st of that year. Under this Law, new construction after February 1, 1947 was totally exempted from controls while pre-1947 buildings remained subject to continuing regulation. Even today, the February 1, 1947 initial occupancy date remains a key determinant in establishing the control status of housing accommodations in New York State and New York City. State Rent Controls 1950-1962 In anticipation of the withdrawal of Federal controls and because of the continuing housing shortage, the State adopted its own set of regulations. Subsequent Federal legislation, the 1949 Federal Housing and Rent Act, gave the States authority to assume administrative control of rent regulation and the power to continue, eliminate or modify the Federal system. In 1950, the Temporary State Housing Rent Commission was designated as the agency responsible for administering the regulation of rental housing by Chapter 250 of the Laws of 1950. This Act also froze rents at the level in effect on March 1, 1950, in order to give the Commission time to develop a rent control plan for New York. To ease the transition from Federal controls, the plan that was adopted by the Legislature in 1951 closely paralleled the Federal regulatory system that was in effect. At the time of the initiation of State rent control, approximately 2,500,000 rental units were under control statewide. About 85% of these units were in New York City. The State system regulated all relationships between owners and tenants pertaining to rents, services and evictions. To administer the system local rent offices were established throughout the State. As the severe housing shortage created by World War II and the inflationary pressure caused by the Korean War gradually abated, the State enacted a series of limited decontrol measures. - Apartments in one or two-family houses which became vacant on or after April 1, 1953 were exempted from controls. - Counties, cities and towns outside of New York City were given decontrol power. - In 1958, the first luxury decontrol order was issued which deregulated approximately 600 units in New York City then renting for more than $416.66 per month unfurnished and $500 per month if the apartment was furnished. By 1961, there were approximately 1,800,000 units subject to rent control throughout the State. Only New York City and 18 counties outside of the City contained rent controlled units. Rent Control and Rent Stabilization 1962-1984 While the gradual decontrol trend continued throughout much of the 1960's, significant administrative change occurred at the beginning of the decade. In 1962, the responsibility for administering rent control within New York City was transferred to the City under the Local Emergency Rent Control Act. This Law enabled the City to shape its own rent control program, since the overwhelming majority of controlled units were located in the City. The administration of State rent control was transferred from the Temporary State Housing Commission to the State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) in 1964. In 1964, approximately 5,000 "high" rent apartments in New York City were decontrolled (unfurnished units renting for $250 per month or more and furnished units renting for $300 or more as of April 1, 1960). Decontrol was staggered. Units were decontrolled immediately upon vacancy, while occupied units were subject to a test based on family size and characteristics (such as families with school age children) and apartment size. A 1965 housing survey revealed a vacancy rate of 8.8% in unfurnished and furnished apartments with rents in excess of $250 and $300 respectively. A 1968 order decontrolled units with such rents as of April 1, 1965. This decontrol measure was also staggered. Approximately 7,000 units were decontrolled under the 1968 Administrator's order. By 1969, economic conditions changed as the result of national as well as local economic factors. Nationally, the Vietnam War caused a steep rise in the rate of inflation and locally, housing production slumped. The overall vacancy rate which stood at 3.2% in 1965 fell drastically to 1.23% in 1968. Rents escalated rapidly in the non-regulated sector. The tightening of the rental housing market led the City to enact the Rent Stabilization Law of 1969. Approximately 400,000 New York City apartments, in buildings containing 6 or more units, which were exempt from rent control became covered by rent stabilization. Of the 400,000 apartments, 325,000 were in buildings constructed after February 1, 1947. Approximately 75,000 of the 400,000 apartments were former rent controlled apartments which had been decontrolled. Rent Stabilization is substantially different from rent control applicable to pre-1947 buildings. The Rent Stabilization Law, which contains a built-in rent adjustment mechanism and a simplified procedural structure, was designed to more readily adapt to changes in the housing market place. This "second generation rent regulation law" featuring industry self- regulation, was conceived as a flexible response to the housing shortage. The Rent Stabilization Law provided for the establishment of a Rent Guidelines Board with the power to establish levels of rent increases for renewal leases and new tenancies. The Law authorized the creation of the Conciliation and Appeals Board (CAB) to receive and act on complaints from tenants and applications from owners. The Law also provided for the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA) to develop a code of regulations. Owners were required to join RSA and comply with the provisions of the code in order to prevent their apartments from being placed under rent control. The newly established, less stringent, rent stabilization system incorporated an automatic mechanism for periodic rent adjustments. An adjustment feature was soon added to the rent control system in order to preserve, maintain and improve this older housing stock. This adjustment feature, enacted by Local Law 30 of 1970, is the Maximum Base Rent (MBR) program, which was the most significant revision of the City's rent control system. In the MBR program, a mathematical formula is used to compute the maximum rent levels for each controlled apartment in the City. This theoretical maximum base rent represents an approximation of the actual income required to operate the housing unit under current costs, including provisions for an 8.5% return on equalized assessed value. The MBR is adjusted every two years to reflect changes in economic conditions. Rent increases under the MBR program are capped at 7.5% a year and are applied until the MBR is reached. To qualify for a rent increase under the program, the owner must provide essential services, keep the building free of major code violations and invest an appropriate amount of rental income for operation and maintenance. In 1971, soon after New York City extended rent stabilization to post-1947 buildings, the State passed several laws designed to deregulate, over time, the controlled and stabilized housing stock. Chapter 371 of the Laws of 1971 provided for decontrol of rent controlled and rent stabilized units which were voluntarily vacated on or after July 1, 1971. Thus, owners could set market rents upon vacancy. In addition, the "Urstadt" Law, named after the then State Housing Commissioner Charles Urstadt, prohibited any municipality in the State from adopting new regulations that were more stringent than those that were presently in effect. From July, 1971 through December, 1973 approximately 300,000 rent controlled units were decontrolled and approximately 88,000 rent stabilized apartments were destabilized. Rapid inflation caused by the continuing Vietnam War was the economic hallmark of this period. In response, the Federal government imposed a 90-day wage and price freeze in late 1971. The Federal program was completely discontinued in January, 1973. However, the general price inflation during the period, combined with vacancy decontrol, resulted in very large rent increases for apartments located in New York City and its surrounding suburbs. In response to these spiraling rent levels, Governor Nelson Rockefeller directed the Temporary State Commission on Living Costs and the Economy of the State of New York to conduct hearings and make recommendations on vacancy decontrol. The Commission, under then Chairman Andrew Stein, recommended abrogation of vacancy decontrol. Its findings indicated that vacancy decontrol resulted in average rent increases of 52% in decontrolled apartments and 19% in previously stabilized units in New York City, while operating costs increased by 7.9%. Vacancy decontrol resulted in average rent increases of 47% in Nassau County and 45% in Westchester County. According to the Commission, in New York City, the excess rent was not reinvested in capital improvements, but in fact resulted in an actual decrease of 30% in renovations. The State Legislature's response to rising public apprehensions caused by rapid rent increases and an inadequate supply of affordable housing was the enactment of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 (ETPA). ETPA provided for a stabilization system in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties in municipalities which chose to adopt such regulations based on a housing emergency, meaning the vacancy rate was less than 5%. The Act also substantially amended the New York City Rent Stabilization Law, and ended the vacancy decontrol provisions of the 1971 legislation as they applied to rent stabilization. In New York City, the ETPA placed buildings with six or more units that were completed between March 11, 1969 and December 31, 1973 under rent stabilization for the first time. In addition, rent controlled units and rent stabilized units, in buildings with six or more units and deregulated by vacancy decontrol, were re-regulated and placed under stabilization. (The vacancy decontrol provisions for rent controlled apartments remain in effect and these units either become stabilized or decontrolled upon vacancy.) In Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties, the ETPA allowed for local determination of its applicability. Buildings with six or more housing units completed prior to January 1, 1974 could be placed under regulation. The Act also directed the creation of county rent guidelines boards to determine annual rent adjustments for classes of housing within the respective counties. The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal was directed to implement the ETPA outside of New York City. State Regulation 1984 to Present After this flurry of activity in the early 1970's which reshaped rent regulation downstate, the next major change in the rent regulation laws did not occur for almost a decade. On June 30, 1983, the Omnibus Housing Act, Chapter 403 of the Laws of 1983, was enacted. The Act transferred the administration of the rent control and rent stabilization programs in New York City to the State. Commencing April 1, 1984, the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal administered all four rent regulatory laws, statewide: 1. The Emergency Housing Rent Control Law of 1950. 2. The Local Emergency Rent Control Act of 1962. 3. The Rent Stabilization Law of 1969. 4. The Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974. The 1983 Omnibus Housing Act abolished the Conciliation and Appeals Board and the New York City Division of Rent Control. The Act required owners to register by July 1, 1984 the rents and services in effect on April 1, 1984 for all stabilized apartments and to update that registration each year. In addition, the Act eliminated the availability of three year leases as a lease renewal option for tenants. The 1983 Act also limited the rent guidelines boards' power to adopt several adjustments or special guidelines at different times during a guidelines year. The boards could now adopt only one guidelines "package" during the guidelines year. The Act instituted a treble damage penalty for owners who collected willful overcharges and also placed a four year statute of limitations on the establishment of overcharges. Finally the Act provided for an alternative hardship application procedure for stabilized units. The last major revision of the rent laws occurred with the passage of the Rent Regulation Reform Act of 1993. The Act deregulated vacant apartments and occupied regulated apartments, which became vacant, that rented for $2,000 or more per month between July 7 and October 1, 1993. In addition, rent regulated apartments renting for $2,000 or more per month as of October 1, 1993, which are occupied by tenants with combined household incomes in excess of $250,000 in each of two immediately preceding years are deregulated upon application by the owner, at the expiration of the stabilized lease. For rent controlled tenants in this category, decontrol will occur on March 1st or June 1st of the year following the year in which the owner filed a petition for decontrol depending on the nature of the proceeding. This income based decontrol process, administered by DHCR, relies upon data furnished to it by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance as part of the income verification process. The 1993 Act also exempted vacant rental units in cooperatives and condominiums in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester counties and occupied units upon the vacancy of the rent regulated tenant. Administrative changes, affecting cases filed on or after July 1, 1991, included the elimination of treble damage penalties for overcharges which occurred solely because of a registration infraction, and the elimination of rent overcharge penalties for late registration. While the luxury decontrol provisions of the 1993 Act affect only 1% of the more than 1 million units under regulation in New York, they represent a significant departure from previous legislation because eligibility criteria are now applied to the economic characteristics of the household. This is the first time in New York's 50 year history of rent regulation that a "means test" has been employed to determine the regulatory status of the housing unit. The history of rent regulation as described above provides some insight into the complexity and difficulty of achieving the goal of establishing fair rents in a market where there is a housing shortage. The goal is simply to introduce fairness into a failed market. However, complexities arise from the necessity of balancing the interest of owners seeking a fair return on investment and the interest of tenants seeking protection from excessive rent increases. This balancing of interests necessitates that rent regulation be more than a mechanism to restrain rent increases but also be a system to maintain an adequate supply of affordable housing. Today, with over 2.5 million New Yorkers living in more than one million rent regulated apartments, the success of the rent regulatory system in achieving its goals still remains of vital importance.