MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
That Holy Grail of New York housing rent control could be spreading beyond New York City. New York state has signed sweeping new rent laws that could extend protections throughout the state. Cities such as Buffalo and Rochester can opt in to the new rules helping protect their renters. Landlords call it a dangerous precedent that will shrink the market of affordable housing. Charles Lane of member station WSHU reports.
CHARLES LANE, BYLINE: The Upper West Side fairy tale of a rent-controlled apartment could be moving north to Newburgh.
CARLA JOHNSON: There's people living in bedbug city. There's people that's living in mold. There's people that's being locked out. There's people being evicted.
LANE: Carla Johnson is showing off all the places she's been evicted from in Newburgh, a former industrial town on the Hudson River two hours north of Manhattan. She says most apartment owners in Newburgh do the bare minimum to maintain a unit. If tenants complain, they get evicted.
JOHNSON: It's cheaper for the landlord to put you out and move someone else in that doesn't know about the problem.
LANE: But new tenant protections may be on the way for cities that embrace the new rules. After Democrats took control of the state Senate, they were able to tweak and expand a law that only applied to New York City. They closed a number of loopholes allowing landlords to deregulate apartments. But renters outside the city want their officials to adopt these new protections, too. Juanita Lewis is an organizer for the group Community Voices Heard. She's excited to see these new rules possibly spread to other cities in New York state.
JUANITA LEWIS: There's the, you know, right to make sure repairs are done or at least being able to have some comfort in making a complaint to, like, buildings and codes and not feeling like you're about to be retaliated against. The rent increases wouldn't be as much, whereas right now, Newburgh doesn't have any of those things.
LANE: Alex Rossello follows rent laws around the country for the National Apartment Association, which represents landlords. He says New York now joins Oregon in trying to solve a housing affordability issue.
ALEX ROSSELLO: The trend is spreading to not just the coasts but more and more states. I mean, Colorado had a bill introduced this session. I would predict that Washington will be the next place where you will see this type of policy introduced.
LANE: Rossello and many economists argue that these type of laws do the opposite of what proponents want, actually making housing less affordable by reducing the supply. In Newburgh, some landlords have an immediate response to the new laws.
MICHAEL ACEVEDO: It's time to go. It's time to go. How am I going to survive?
LANE: Michael Acevedo heads the Orange County Landlord Association. He blames tenants, not landlords, for the poor living conditions.
ACEVEDO: The tenants kept wrecking it. I kept going in and fixing it. Finally the mortgage and the taxes were more money than I can rent it for.
LANE: Studies suggest that closing the loopholes and protecting pricey $3,000-a-month apartments only helps wealthy renters. They show overall rent laws tend to shrink the number of regulated apartments as landlords find new loopholes to deregulate them.
ACEVEDO: I mean, you know, you go into business to make money, right? I don't do it for my health. I do it to pay my bills and send my kids to college, you know, whatever.
LANE: Even though much of the research shows that rent control doesn't help most tenants in the long run, advocates say at least current tenants are protected. As tenant advocates work to spread these new protections across the state, a coalition of landlord groups will likely lobby cities not to adopt the new rules. For NPR News, I'm Charles Lane.
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