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Why Rent-Stabilized Vacancies Have Dropped Significantly

Contrary to their claims, landlords successfully repaired more than 20,000 rent-stabilized units within two years.
Cover Image Source: Rent-Stabilized Vacancies | Unsplash | Photo by Shalev Cohen
Cover Image Source: Rent-Stabilized Vacancies | Unsplash | Photo by Shalev Cohen

A recent report released by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander sheds light on significant shifts within the city's rental housing landscape over the past couple of years. According to the report, the number of vacant rent-stabilized units, which were unavailable for rent, saw a significant decline of 39% over the preceding two years. The analysis estimates that fewer than 2,000 low-rent, rent-stabilized units remain unoccupied due to landlords' challenges in undertaking necessary repairs.

Rents are touching skies for even non-stabilized apartments. Image Source: Unsplash|Photo by Erik Mclean
Image Source: Unsplash | Photo by Erik Mclean

Certain factions, purportedly representing landlords' interests, have contended that the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA) of 2019 rendered the renovation of rent-stabilized units economically unviable for subsequent rental. However, the Comptroller's office found no substantial evidence to support such claims.

"The number of rent-stabilized units that are vacant and not available to rent, due to landlords’ inability to make repairs or for any other reason, fell significantly from 2021 to 2023," said Comptroller Brad Lander.

"Our report found no evidence that the HSTPA led to an increase in vacant or distressed units in the city’s rent-stabilized housing stock. There is simply no evidence for landlord claims that the HSTPA should be rolled back, or vacancy decontrol restored in any form."

Pexels | Photo by Vladimir Kudinov
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by Vladimir Kudinov

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a surge in rental vacancies from 2020 to 2021. However, there has been a remarkable decline in vacant units since the pandemic's peak, with the percentage of unoccupied rent-stabilized units plummeting from 4.57% in 2021 to a mere 0.98% in 2023.

During this period, landlords observed a reduction in the number of units that remained vacant but unavailable for rent due to various reasons, such as undergoing renovations, legal disputes, or occasional use. This decline was particularly pronounced within the rent-stabilized units, with their count dropping from 42,860 in 2021 to 26,310 in 2023.

Moreover, the number of rent-stabilized units classified as dilapidated or uninhabitable experienced a significant decrease, declining from 11,500 in 2021 to just over 3,000 units in 2023. 

Representative | Pexels | Enric Cruz López
Image Source: Representative Image | Pexels | Photo by Enric Cruz López

Despite initial concerns surrounding the impact of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA) of 2019, the report found no substantial evidence indicating a surge in vacant or distressed units within the city's rent-stabilized housing market.

Furthermore, it is estimated that New York City presently has fewer than 2,000 vacant apartments renting for less than $1,500 each month, which have been withheld from the market due to landlords' inability to conduct necessary repairs.

Image Source: Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh | Pexels

In light of these findings, the Comptroller's office advocates for three targeted strategies to address the repair needs of rent-stabilized buildings while ensuring tenants' protection. Firstly, they recommend raising the cap on Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) from $15,000 to $25,000, aligning it with the City's "Unlocking Doors" pilot program and linking it to inflation in the future.

Additionally, they propose modifying existing programs under New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) to assist landlords facing genuine hardships, offering capital subsidies, rental vouchers, and preservation loans where necessary.

The report also suggests allocating funding in New York City's Fiscal Year 2025 Capital Budget for the "Neighborhood Pillars" program. This initiative aims to transition distressed privately owned housing into community ownership, facilitate essential building repairs, and sustain long-term affordability.

The "Homes Now, Homes for Generations" campaign, recently launched by a coalition of New York City officials and advocates, calls for the addition of $250 million annually to the Neighborhood Pillars program over the next four years, aiming to fortify its impact and extend its reach.