RGB Issues Rent Freeze Amid Pandemic
The RGB freezes one-year renewal rents and sets a partial freeze for two-year renewals.
On June 17, in a 6 to 3 vote, the city’s Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) decided to freeze rents for rent-stabilized tenants with one-year leases. For two-year renewal leases, a 1 percent increase is allowed during the second year.
The freeze is the third one during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure. The first two occurred in 2015 and 2016 for one-year leases. This last vote was the first time the board approved a freeze for any portion of two-year leases.
Last year’s vote for a 1.5 percent increase on a one-year renewal lease and a 2.5 percent increase on a two-year renewal lease was the third year in a row in which the board increased rents. This year, the board members, all of whom were appointed by de Blasio, had to vote during a period of mass unemployment caused by the coronavirus pandemic and just one year after the enactment of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which upended the rent-regulation landscape.
In a statement following the vote, Mayor de Blasio said, “Renters have never faced hardship like this. They desperately need relief, and that’s why we fought for this rent freeze.”
By the RGB’s own reports, it seemed as though rent increases probably would’ve been approved if it wasn’t for the pandemic. The board had projected that increases of 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent for one-year leases and 3.3 percent to 6.75 percent for two-year leases would be needed to maintain net operating income for landlords of rent-stabilized buildings. According to one of the board’s reports, net operating income declined by 0.6 percent from 2017 to 2018, to $535 monthly per apartment. This was the first drop since 2003. And the board’s reports are considered a starting point for the members’ deliberations on allowable rent increases.
The new rent guidelines apply to leases beginning anytime on or after Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021. Below, we’ll tell you how to calculate rents for two-year renewal leases under RGBO #52. An article in the next issue will explain how RGBO #52 affects vacancy leases.
To help you calculate the rent hike you may charge for each of your tenants when you renew a lease, we’ve included a rent increase calculation chart—Apartment Law Insider’s RGBO #52 Rent Computation Form for Renewal Leases. Remember that for renewal leases, you calculate all rent hikes based on the rents charged on Sept. 30, 2020.
Here are details of the new rent guidelines order:
Rent Increase Permitted
The RGBO applies to renewal leases for rent-stabilized apartments, beginning anytime on or after Oct. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021. You can take 0 percent on a one-year lease; 0 percent on the first year of a two-year lease; and 1 percent for the second year of a two-year lease.
If Rent Cut in Effect
How do you calculate the rent increase for a renewal lease on an apartment where a Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) order cutting the rent for reduced services was in effect on Sept. 30, 2020? Base the renewal increase under RGBO #52 on what the tenant’s rent was before the DHCR-ordered rent cut. That’s because a rent cut for a reduced service is temporary. When you fix the problem, you can apply to the DHCR to restore the rent. But don’t collect the guidelines increase until after the DHCR restores the rent.
Example: On July 1, 2020, a tenant’s monthly rent is $1,200. In August, the DHCR cuts the monthly rent by $100, to $1,100. The tenant’s lease is up for renewal on Jan. 1, 2021. The tenant decides to sign a two-year lease. To calculate the guideline increase, multiply $1,200 (the rent the tenant was paying before the rent cut order) by 1 percent for the second year. If you use our Rent Computation Form for Renewal Leases, you would enter $1,200—not $1,100—on line 1 (rent charged for apartment on Sept. 30, 2020). But remember: You may collect the guidelines increase only after you get a rent restoration order.
How to fill out DHCR renewal lease offer form. In New York City, owners must give written notice of renewal by mail or personal delivery not more than 150 days and not less than 90 days before the existing lease expires on a DHCR Renewal Lease Form. The form can be found at https://hcr.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2020/06/rtp-8.pdf.
When a tenant signs the Renewal Lease Form and returns it to the owner, the owner must return the fully signed and dated copy to the tenant within 30 days. A renewal should go into effect on or after the date that it’s signed and returned to the tenant, but no earlier than the expiration date of the current lease. In general, the lease and any rent increase may not begin retroactively.
On the renewal lease offer form, fill out section 2 (which shows your calculation of the rent increase) as if no rent cut is in effect. In section 2, column b, enter the rent that you could have charged on Sept. 30, 2020, if no rent cut had been in effect. Base the rest of your section 2 calculations on the rent you entered in column b. Make sure you check the box at the top of column f, which indicates you’ll be charging the tenant a lower rent than the amount you’ve entered.
Then fill out section 5. Enter the lower rent you’ll be charging the tenant until you get a rent restoration order from the DHCR. Also, check the box that indicates that an agreement is attached to the renewal lease offer form. The agreement is the lease rider discussed in the next paragraph.
Once you get a rent restoration order, you may collect the higher rent listed in section 2, column g, of the renewal lease offer form. To head off tenant confusion and complaints, let the tenant know when and why you’ll be collecting the higher rent. You can add a rider to the renewal lease offer form you send to the tenant. Here’s a sample rider that attorney Karen Schwartz-Sidrane has drafted:
A DHCR rent reduction order is currently in effect; therefore, the tenant will be obligated to pay only the reduced rental in effect pursuant to said order until such time as the DHCR issues an order restoring the rent based upon the restoration of services or upon other grounds. Upon the issuance of said order, the tenant will become obligated to pay the increased rental reserved in this lease, effective as of the date specified in the DHCR’s order.
After the renewal offer is made, the tenant has 60 days to choose a lease term, sign the lease, and return it to the owner. If the tenant doesn’t accept the renewal lease offer within this 60-day period, the owner may refuse to renew the lease and may also proceed in court after the expiration of the current lease, to have the tenant evicted.
If Rent Overcharge Order Issued
What if the DHCR has issued an order finding that you’ve collected a rent overcharge, and that order includes a finding that the rent you charged on Sept. 30, 2020, should’ve been lower? You must base the increase available to you under RGBO #52 on the lower amount that the DHCR found was the legal rent you could charge on Sept. 30, 2020. If you use our Rent Computation Form for Renewal Leases, enter that lower amount on line 1 of the form.
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|RGBO #52 Rent Computation Form for Renewal Leases|