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New York Post

 

A Real Rent Reform

June 07, 2011

By Nicole Gelinas

PRINTER FRIENDLY

As Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature finish up spring business, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver wants to tie a suburban property-tax cap to renewal of rent regulations in the city. OK -- but, while we’re “linking” things, let’s even out the information gap.

People in the suburbs can find out how much their neighbors pay in property taxes -- why can’t city dwellers learn how much their neighbors pay in rent?

The state laws that “stabilize” annual hikes on 1 million apartments -- half of the city’s supply -- expire next Wednesday. The city’s Democratic delegation wants to not just renew the rules, but beef them up. Right now, vacant apartments escape rent control when they reach $2,000 monthly; the Dems want to hike that ceiling to $3,000 and put tougher limits on how much extra landlords can charge for capital improvements like new windows.

Sorry: That’s going to help almost no one who’s looking for a place. Of the 6.9 billion people in the world, probably half wouldn’t mind a cheap two-bedroom Upper West Side apartment. Even a dense city can’t keep up with this demand -- so prices go up.

Whether it’s an under-the-table fee, owing a huge favor to someone or just paying more because everyone else got the cheap apartments first, you pay for that “cheap” rent.

The only thing that would “work” to push prices down would be for people to not want to live here. As Mayor Bloomberg might say, you can find a pretty cheap apartment in Buffalo.

The pols can do something to help the average Joe, though -- by pulling back the veil of secrecy.

When you’re looking for a new apartment, you have no objective source to turn to to find out what other people in the neighborhood are paying. (The US Census’ “Housing and Vacancy Survey” gives only some out-of-date, overly general info.)

So you have to depend on brokers -- who theoretically work for you, but get up to 15 percent of a year’s rent as their payment, and so have a big incentive to skew the price high. (Plus, they work with you once, but work with the same landlords hundreds of times -- so you figure it out.)

The fix is easy. The state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal already collects annual rent data from the owners of all regulated apartments -- both the maximum rent that they can charge, plus any “preferential” deals given to tenants below the maximum. The state could ask for similar information once a year from unregulated owners -- and then put it all up online.

Presto: The apartment search is no longer a mystery.

It would be a treasure trove. Whether you’re paying $900 a month or $4,000, you’d benefit from knowing, say, that your landlord had to give renewing tenants slight discounts lately in a soft economy. It also helps to see that the vacant apartment next door went quickly for a higher price -- then you know not to negotiate too hard.

But Albany keeps a tight lid on this stuff. State law prohibits public release of rent info as an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Hogwash. If I want to buy a house in the suburbs, I can find out the sales history of every house on the block. Suburbanites can find out what their neighbor’s house is worth even if he hasn’t sold it lately, via property-tax assessments. Why should city dwellers be the only ones in the dark?

Plus, it’s actually the state that’s setting these prices. Why shouldn’t the citizenry have the information they need to analyze the result of that control?

It would be just as crazy for the MTA to argue that it can’t tell the public whether its trains run on time, because such information would violate subway riders’ privacy.

The pols have a self-interested reason for hiding the rents. They don’t want to make it easy for a Bronx tenant paying $900 to go online and find out that the person who lives in the same apartment below her is paying $700 -- not because the downstairs tenant is poorer or older, but because of the bizarre rent-regulation lottery.

Albany should free informa tion, so that New Yorkers have a fairer shake in an always-tough market.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/real_rent_reform_YD5xLLXB1i8eT1Mw0jehHP

 

 
 
 

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