As many as 200,000 New York City apartments could be missing from rent regulation as required by law
Image taken from Flickr user Several seconds
By Cezary Podkul
By arrangement with
Since the 1990s, New York City
The estimate comes from the city’s
There’s one problem with the figure, however: It could be off by as much as 20 percent.
The difference of close to 200,000 units, or about one-fifth of HPD’s estimate, indicates that a large number of city apartments aren’t actually rent stabilized when they should be, putting tenants at risk of overcharges or illegal evictions.
Landlords had failed to register 50,000 units for rent stabilization as required in exchange for receiving city property tax breaks worth over $100 million each year.
As part of a continuing investigation into oversight of New York City’s rent laws, ProPublica
The 200,000 figure also covers apartments subject to rent stabilization under a separate requirement that applies to buildings with six or more units constructed before a 1974 state overhaul of rent-stabilization laws.
Asked about the gap between the estimate and registrations, the state DHCR cited the potential for statistical error in HPD’s survey. But the city said the primary explanation is that not every building owner who should register with DHCR does so. HPD said it is working with the state to boost compliance.
The exact size of the registration gap is unknown. But housing advocates told ProPublica that margin of error in the survey—plus or minus 34,000 units, according to the latest estimate—isn’t big enough to bridge the difference.
“The number of owners that do not properly register rent-stabilized apartments is enormous,” said Celia Weaver of the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board. “We have come across numerous instances where a building should have rent-regulated units but doesn’t because the owner doesn’t register.”
Failing to comply with rent stabilization rules can expose landlords to overcharge claims, which can go as high as triple the amount of the overcharge. In cases where the landlord is also receiving tax breaks to provide rent-stabilized housing, they risk losing the benefit—although such revocations are rare.
his analysis found 11,922 of these older buildings that weren’t registered with the state’s DHCR as of 2013.
Older apartments covered by the 1974 rent-regulation overhaul appear to be the biggest part of the problem. Chris Henrick, creator of
Landlords often take these apartments out of rent stabilization illegally—for example, by falsely claiming that the rent has crossed a threshold, now $2,700, when landlords can begin charging market-rate rents. Unless a tenant complains, the apartments are likely to remain missing from the rent-stabilized count.
The scenario is especially acute in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods like Brooklyn’s
“We know that for some people it’s affordable to pay $2,500 [a month] or $3,000, but when it’s illegal, it’s still not affordable,” Cornegy told tenants gathered at the early December meeting.
As ProPublica has reported, the city has been aware of the problem of missing registrations for years but failed to address it. Stephen Werner, an analyst at HPD who helps put together the agency’s triennial housing survey, noticed the registration gap twenty years ago, but higher-ups ignored his warnings.
Werner, who also
“My numbers are now really being shown to be valid,” Werner said.
Michael Dardia, former deputy director of the city’s Office of Management and Budget now at the nonprofit
Regulators have begun to tackle the problem. In the biggest move to date, Governor Andrew Cuomo
HPD Commissioner Vicki Been recently
“We’ve been taking a very hard look back at HPD about all of our enforcement efforts,” Been said when asked about ProPublica’s report about missing registrations at a December meeting of the City Planning Commission. “We certainly understand that that has to be ramped-up.”
“Affordable homes cannot be allowed to just go missing as city and state regulators have historically turned a blind eye.”
City legislators also announced efforts to fix the problem. In early December, Council Member Ben Kallos
Asked about the new data suggesting that even more apartments aren’t registered, Kallos said, “Affordable homes cannot be allowed to just go missing as city and state regulators have historically turned a blind eye.”
“It is a problem that not only can be fixed but must be fixed,” he said.
Cezary Podkul covers finance for ProPublica.