Freeze the Rent! Power to the People! May Day!

Last Tuesday, the Rent Guidelines Board voted to approve a proposed rent renewal increase ranging from 0 to 3 percent for one-year renewals and 0.5 to 4.5 percent for two-year leases.

You read that right: 0 percent.

This fulfills a “rent freeze” campaign pledge that Mayor Bill de Blasio made. But it’s also a very bad idea.

Rent control and stabilization are, if not a “necessary evil,” at best a “necessary not-very-good.” But the Observer accepts the idea that in a city desperately short of housing, there have to be some artificial caps on cost (though the better solution would clearly be allowing more units to be built).

That said, it’s pure lunacy to command landlords to accept zero increase in yearly rents. It just doesn’t match the realities that owners face. Is the mayor going to give these landlords a property tax freeze, as well? Will the cost of superintendents, water, construction supplies and a hundred other things that landlords provide suddenly stay frozen? Don’t count on it.

Unfortunately, this is the magical realism you get when there’s an entire political class, from mayor to speaker to council, who have not only never run anything but in many cases have literally never held a real job.

This is dangerous.

It is easy to paint landlords as greedy and tenants as the victims of that greed. Not only is that simplistic—it’s just wrong. Many owners are barely making it, and many tenants have taken outrageous advantage of rent laws that are wildly skewed in favor of renters. It doesn’t take a political genius to see why that would be: There are way more votes to be had from renters than owners.

But that doesn’t mean that zero is good for anybody, renters included.

No one expects anyone to cry for the landlords. But the housing crisis in New York is mainly one of insufficient supply. Branding landlords as pariahs who must shoulder their increased costs by themselves is not the way to incentivize more building. Furthermore, no one but the most naïve—as in, someone who has never held a private-sector job—would believe that services will be delivered as effectively when a landlord is being asked to pay more for them without a commensurate increase in rent.

This is silly, opportunistic policy-making designed to pander rather than solve problems. We urge a more thoughtful approach.