More ‘Bullshit’ as Rent Guidelines Board Goes Through Annual Motions

The Rent Guidelines Board proposed increasing rents on the city’s 1 million stabilized apartments by between 3.5 to 9.5 percent at their annual meeting at Cooper Union last night, in an upset for tenants and landlords alike.

The nine-member board will hold two public hearings before determining in June an increase that could be substantially larger than those of the past two years. The increases could range from 3.5 to 7 percent for one-year leases and 5.5 to 9.5 percent for two-year leases renewed between October 2008 and September 2009. Rents rose 5.75 percent on two-year leases and 3 percent on one-year leases in 2007; and 7.25 percent and 4.25 percent, respectively, in 2006.

Only a smattering of mainly senior, picket-wielding tenants were in the audience on Monday night, a relatively poor showing compared to past meetings. But otherwise it followed the same script as its predecessors, pitting beleaguered tenants against landlords claiming hardship.

First a motion for a rent freeze by one of the RGB’s two tenant representatives voted down 7 to 2. Tenants shouted, “You’re stooges for the landlords,” and, “Shame on you.”

Then a motion for a 9 percent increase for one-year leases and a 14 percent rise for two-year leases proposed by one of the two landlord representatives was opposed 7 to 2, prompting some clapping from the audience.

One audience member quieted them down: “Why are you cheering? This is all cooked.”

Attendees were greeted with a sign at the entrance of Cooper Union warning that: “items that are reasonably likely to disrupt the proceedings, such as noisemakers and drums, are prohibited and may not be brought into the meeting venue.”

But aside from the occasional cry of “bullshit” and one mini-spat between when RGB Chairman Marvin Markus ordered an older (seated) man shouting about inflation to be quiet and sit down, things went according to ceremony.

“I want to know where everybody is,” said tenant board member Adriene L. Holder. “The tenants are here, but not in the number you’d expect given how dire the issue is. Perhaps they’re not here because they are still working or perhaps they’re not here because they are working a second job. Perhaps they’re not here because they are discouraged about a system that guarantees there is going to be an increase.

“But on the other side I wonder where the landlords are also,” Ms. Holder said. “We’ve been told what a dire situation this is for them. We’re told that landlords are suffering and that it’s very hard for them to maintain these buildings we live in. I’m wondering if they are not here because they are satisfied by a system that guarantees them an annual rent increase. Or perhaps they are indifferent to a system that doesn’t really work for anyone.”

When Mr. Markus took the microphone after about an hour, someone behind me said, “Watch he’s going to suggest a range.”

“Home, home on the range,” her companion joked.

Sure enough, Mr. Markus’s proposed range was approved 5 to 4—the same count for the past three years.