Why tempered optimism is on the menu for NYC tenant advocates

New York State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) champions the rights of renters and meaningful tenant safeguards against bad-faith and profit-hungry urban landlords.

She noted recently that she is "far more optimistic than I've ever been in my adult life" concerning near-horizon prospects for significant pro-tenant reforms.

That expressed hope comes with a caveat, though.

"Never say Albany can't screw something up," Krueger says.

In fact, the New York State Legislature has for decades been markedly amenable to pro-landlord lobbying influences. That clout has influenced the passage of select laws and deflected material change favoring tenants and linked advocacy groups.

What now gives Krueger and like-minded reformers a reasoned expectation that things might imminently change in a material way is the recent election of many new and avowed pro-renter legislators. Increasing and high-profile voices are vowing to put the lid on landlord tools and constraints that have reduced the availability of affordable, rent-stabilized housing.

Skepticism persists, though, with some reformers wondering just what inroads can be made against things like high-rent vacancy decontrol and so-called "preferential rent" (which can become prohibitively pricey upon lease termination). Concern focuses also on major maintenance projects and other capital improvements carried out at multi-dwelling units. Legions of city tenants have accused landlords of doing such work simply to jack up costs aimed at eventually ousting them.

A revamped state legislature (especially the Senate) "doesn't mean that [positive tenant change] is automatically going to happen," says one renters' advocate. He and other advocacy voices urgently call for tenants' mass involvement in the political process.

"We're going to have to work to make it happen," notes that organizer.

So too will the newly appointed lawmakers who were elected for their outspoken endorsement of quick and meaningful rent protections.

The 2019 New York State Legislature is now in session.

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