Smallholder Rent Increase Campaign Lacks Support

A campaign by New York small property owners to increase the rent of stabilized units is not backed to move the needle (Getty)

After a year of unpaid rent and up Property taxes – what one landlord called “American hell” – a group of smallholders is lobbying the Rental Guidelines Board to approve an increase in stabilized apartments.

But the advocacy campaign, launched Tuesday by New York small property owners, has no fiscal backing. Instead, it will rely on letter writing and testimonials from the owners.

SPONY member Jan Lee said the campaign, dubbed “RGB Responsibility,” would be a voluntary effort by the group’s smallholders, most of whom have a few dozen apartments.

“There is no one to fund it,” Lee said. “It’s just us, as families, who reach out as an organized group of people to our elected officials.”

In New York, a professional-led promotional campaign can set an organization back in the tens of thousands to millions of dollars: $ 10,000 a month for lobbying, another $ 10,000 to attract the press; and maybe $ 35,000 to run a week’s worth of ads in a political bulletin read by elected officials. A TV blitz can cost a million dollars a week.

SPONY tax filings show that the nonprofit organization has not reported annual income greater than $ 50,000 in the last 12 years. Experts say that makes it extremely difficult to make an impact.

“Unless an organized effort has the ability to harness star power or mass popular appeal, with a significant amount of free media to back it up, it is very difficult to sway opinion or move the needle,” said Jake Dilemani, Managing Director of the public affairs firm Mercury.

SPONY’s main focus will be public hearings hosted by the Rental Guidelines Board next week. The campaign will recruit and prepare smallholders to speak about their experiences before town halls on Tuesday and Thursday, where tenant advocates will also speak.

Members of the group argue that smallholders deserve some of the attention renters have received for their financial struggles during the pandemic.

“The difficulties are not exclusive to one side,” Lee said. “The difficulties are also reflected in us.”

Landlords at Tuesday’s press conference regretted having to finance repairs and pay bills without rental income.

Others criticized RGB’s formula for calculating annual increases, saying it excludes certain expenses, such as maintaining outdated infrastructure.

“Our oldest buildings were built in the 1850s when Millard Fillmore was president,” said Brooklyn landlord Christopher Athineos. “So they require a lot more expenses.”

Athineos said it is targeting a 2 percent increase in one-year leases and a 3 percent increase in two-year agreements, which other members echoed.

TO preliminary vote by the rent board recommended an increase from zero to 2 percent in leases for one year and from 1 to 3 percent for two years. Last year, the board froze rents across the board in response to the pandemic.

The final vote will take place the night of June 23.

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