Rent-Stabilized Apartment Tally Drops Further, as Some Landlords Try to Rent at Market Rates

Earlier this year, THE CITY published a database of tens of thousands of rent-stabilized buildings whose owners reported having fewer regulated apartments in 2021 than in 2019, as shown on their property tax bills. The drop was surprising given that changes to rent laws in 2019 forbade removing apartments from regulation in most instances.

Now THE CITY has obtained the same information for 2022 via the nonprofit JustFix — and it shows an even larger number of apartments that had once been registered as rent-stabilized now unaccounted for. 

Staff at the state housing agency, as well as landlord groups, say that late paperwork from landlords certifying their rent-regulated apartments, which they must complete by July every year, likely accounts for the decline, as did pandemic disruptions.

But as business gets back to normal, the number of vanished registrations is growing. The JustFix data shows 784,000 registered rent regulated apartments in 2022, down from about 800,000 in the previous two years and closer to 880,000 in 2019, before the pandemic and the new rent law. Now, one in ten rent-stabilized units no longer appear on landlords’ tax bills.

What’s more, the majority of buildings with missing units — over 8,400 — have failed to report rent-stabilized apartments on their tax bills for three years in a row. Additionally, about 3,200 properties still have one or more stabilized apartments registered, meaning that late registrations can’t explain the drop.

The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal (HCR) requires property owners to report the number of rent-regulated apartments in their properties each year. Then around mid-April, they send a list of whatever registration data they have over to the city’s Department of Finance, which administers tax bills. 

Landlord registrations can come in years after the deadline — and HCR has already updated their total statewide count of rent regulated units in 2021 from 927,000 to 959,000, adding in late registrations that have come in over the last year.

HCR says they have not noticed any abnormal lags in landlord registrations coming in that would explain the sustained drop in unit counts since 2020, and suspect that any omissions may come from the city Department of Finance’s handling of the data, a spokesperson told THE CITY. 

However, a spokesperson from the finance department, which administers and publishes landlords’ tax bills, told THE CITY that the number of units listed on tax bills is just a reflection of what HCR sends them — if the unit count section on the tax bill is blank, it simply means HCR didn’t send them anything for that property.

The landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP) declined to comment on the latest figures.

‘Stay Vigilant’

Citywide, over 15,000 buildings report fewer rent-stabilized units today than they did in 2019, the data shows.

There are legal ways that apartments can exit the rent stabilization system, such as the expiration of a building’s participation in a tax exemption program for residential building owners such as 421-a. The city Rent Guidelines Board documents ​​19,025 units lost through legal means since 2019.

However, the city created thousands of rent-regulated units in recent years through programs like 421-a, with 15,097 added since 2019 — meaning the city should see only a few thousand regulated apartments gone.

Tenant advocates are keeping close watch on the numbers.

“We feel it’s important to publish historical rent stabilization data to monitor systematic destabilization of units,” says JustFix software engineer Ki Wan Sim, who hopes adding this data to the advocacy group’s Who Owns What tool will help tenants and organizers “stay vigilant of disappearing affordable housing.” (The author of this article previously worked at JustFix.)

Previous reporting by THE CITY has found properties where apartments disappearing from rent registrations reflected on tax bills are indeed being rented to tenants as unregulated apartments or shared living spaces charging thousands of dollars per room monthly. Others are undergoing reconstruction, as landlords take advantage of a loophole allowing buildings that undergo “substantial rehabilitation” to exit rent regulation.

Joshua Stephenson, executive director of West Bronx Housing and Neighborhood Resource Center, says that for the past year, his team of tenant organizers has been using THE CITY’s map of missing rent-regulated building registrations to spot potential problem spots, where landlords might be pressing tenants to move out so they can renovate. 

“I can’t imagine what this job would be without these sources of data,” says Stephenson, “to find specific buildings that we wanted to target for unlawful deregulation.”

Working with tenant associations and requesting individual tenants’ apartment rent histories from the state, West Bronx Housing has uncovered upwards of 15 instances where landlords have stopped reporting apartments to the state and then lease apartments to new tenants at unregulated rents — including at 3283 Decatur Ave

“We’ve helped file a few overcharge cases and are still waiting back to hear,” says Stephenson. 

Our map only shows buildings that stopped reporting rent-stabilized units between 2019 and 2022. If your building is listed here and your lease is not rent-stabilized let us know and help us report by emailing [email protected]. If you’re not sure if your apartment is or was rent-stabilized, learn how to look up your rent history.

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