MCI needs major improvement of its own
Jul 11, 2017 | 1141 views | 0 0 comments | 124 124 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A group of tenants in a rent-stabilized building in Jackson Heights are taking their landlord to court over what they feel is an unfair rent increase, but even they admit they have little chance of winning the case under current state law.

And that's a shame.

Tenants say their landlord decided to raise the rents after he fixed a chronic leaking problem in their building that was an issue for over a decade.

The landlord classified the repairs as a “major capital improvement,” of MCI, which means that he can pass on the cost of the “improvements” to the tenants.

Notwithstanding the dubious claim that making the building dry and livable qualifies as a major capital improvement, there are serious issues with the program that dates to the 1970s and was originally intended to incentivize landlords to improve their buildings at a time when the city was crumbling.

Fast-forward to 2017 in a city where the real estate market is booming, and too often the program is abused as a method for getting rid of rent-stabilized tenants. The landlord makes a couple of repairs or switches out some old bathroom fixtures, and then they raise the rent far beyond what they would have been able to with the annual rent increases approved by the Real Estate Board.

Once a longtime tenant can no longer afford the rent and is forced to move out, the landlord benefits again by getting to raise the rent even more because it is now a vacant unit.

The city doesn't need more “luxury” housing, but more livable affordable housing. Residents who are struggling to make ends meet don't need stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops, they need a place with gas, hot water and a roof that doesn't leak every time it rains.

Another issue with the program is that the rents are raised in perpetuity, even in cases where the incentive is properly applied. In other words, long after the landlord has recouped his cost of making the upgrades, they continue to benefit from the rent increase.

The program is overseen by the state Department of Housing and Community Renewal. It's time the agency be more stringent on what qualifies as a “major capital improvement” and what is simply a landlord providing a habitable space to their tenants.
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