Rent control in NYC: Everything you need to know

Rent controlled apartments have long been a holy grail for New York City renters. Along with closely-related rent stabilized apartments, these coveted units make up less than half of the city’s rental housing. Here’s what you need to know about the current state of rent regulation in NYC, including 2019’s new renter protections.

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Table of contents

What is rent control?How does rent control work in NYC?Rent controlRent stabilization2019 Changes to NYC’s rent stabilization lawsAvailability of rent controlled apartments and rent stabilized apartmentsArguments for and against rent control

What is rent control?

Rent control is a type of rent regulation that limits the amount that landlords can charge for rent and also how much it can be raised each year. The purpose of rent control is to make housing more affordable, while also letting landlords make enough income to maintain their buildings. Rent control laws also offer some pr

How does rent control work in NYC?

New York City’s rent control laws are the oldest in the country. The roots of the program date to 1943, when the federal government legislated a rent freeze in the city to fight wartime housing inflation. In the following decades, state agencies gradually loosened these strict regulations, deregulating certain types of apartments as needed to maintain a balance among renters, landlords, and available housing. 

Currently, the New York state legislature is in charge of the city’s rent control laws. Rents for rent stabilized units are set by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board. 

There are two types of rent regulated apartment in NYC: rent controlled and rent stabilized. The older program, rent control, applies to only 1% of units and is being phased out as tenants die or move out of these apartments. Rent stabilization is a much more widespread program, covering about 44% of NYC rental units.

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Rent control

Applies to apartments built prior to 1947 where the tenant has been living continuously since July 1, 1971. When the tenant moves out, the unit will become rent stabilized if it’s in a building with more than six units. 

  • The rent can be raised up to 7.5% every two years.

  • The rent cannot exceed a Maximum Base Rent, which is determined per unit and covers the landlord’s maintenance costs. 

  • Rent controlled tenants can pass their apartment to a family member when they die if the family member had been living in the apartment for at least two years. 

Rent stabilization

Applies to apartments built prior to 1974 that have more than six units. Newer buildings can voluntarily participate in rent stabilization in exchange for tax exemptions. 

  • The maximum rent increase per year for one- and two-year leases is set by the Rent Guidelines Board, which takes into account real estate costs as well as cost of living. For the last ten years, the increases have been between 0% and 4.5% per year. 

  • When you live in a rent stabilized unit, your landlord is obligated to add your spouse’s name to the lease. You are allowed to have one roommate who is not related to you, but that person has no right to take over your lease if you move out. 

  • The rent stabilized unit does have to be your primary residence. You can sublet your apartment under certain circumstances, but not for more than two out of any four years.

2019 Changes to NYC’s rent stabilization laws

Major changes occurred to the city’s rent laws in 2019 that benefit renters. Prior to this new legislation, landlords had a number of ways to take apartments out of rent stabilization. If any of the following conditions applied, the unit would cease to be rent stabilized:

  • The landlord renovated the apartment

  • The landlord converted the apartment to a condo

  • The landlord took over the apartment for his or her own use

  • The rent reached a certain threshold ($2,775 in 2019) 

  • The tenant earned a certain income ($200,000 in 2019)

The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 closed these and other loopholes.

Before the 2019 legislation, landlords also could raise the rent up to the market rate between tenants. Now, when a tenant vacates, the rent increase is limited to 20 percent. 

Availability of rent controlled apartments and rent stabilized apartments

Since you won’t be moving into a rent controlled apartment unless you want your elderly grandmother as a roommate, focus your search on rent stabilized units. Many of these apartments are studios and one-bedrooms. They can be found all over the city but are especially common in these areas: 

  • The Bronx (Highbridge, Kingsbridge, University Heights)

  • Upper Manhattan (Inwood, Washington Heights, Upper West and Upper East Side)

  • Central Brooklyn (Crown Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens)

The NYC Rent Guidelines Board has a list of rent stabilized buildings on their website, broken down by borough. It also has a search function that allows you to find out if a certain building is rent stabilized (but not which units in it may be covered). 

Before you sign a lease on a rent stabilized apartment, you can request its rental history from the city to make sure you are being charged a rent that is in line with the laws. 

Arguments for and against rent control

Housing advocates argue that rent control regulations are essential to preventing displacement of economically disadvantaged residents, especially in cities where housing costs rise much faster than wages. In NYC, two-thirds of rent stabilized tenants are low-income, and the majority are elderly.

Economists tend to view rent control regulations more skeptically. Without raising the rent, they argue, landlords cannot afford to maintain their buildings, leading to lower housing quality for tenants. In New York City, new construction tends to increase when rent control regulations are loosened, boosting housing availability. There is also evidence that rent control lowers property values (and therefore property taxes, which fund city government). 

Rent controlled apartments are often hard to come by. Bungalow offers an alternative: affordable private rooms in shared homes that cost an average of 30% less than market-rate studio apartments in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in, and all roommates are vetted, so that coliving is seamless. Find a Bungalow near you.

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