Mayor Steve Noble has asked the Common Council to approve $32,000 in funding to study vacancy rates in some of the city’s rental housing units. The survey would clear the way for the introduction of rent regulation in Kingston under the newly passed statewide Emergency Tenant Protection Act.
The EPTA was signed into law earlier this year with support from the state Senate’s new Democratic majority. The law includes a number of new protections for tenants long sought by housing advocates; for example, it limits security deposits and imposes new penalties for retaliatory evictions.
The law also, for the first time, allows communities in upstate New York to opt-in to rent regulation. Under the new law, a county-appointed advisory board would have the power to impose caps on annual rent hikes for current tenants based on market conditions and other factors. The rent regulation component of the law only applies to buildings built before 1974 that have six or more units, and the law also mandates that rent regulation may only be imposed if there is a vacancy rate of less than 5 percent in eligible units.
In an Aug. 1 memo to Common Council President James Noble, Mayor Noble wrote that he had issued a request for proposals for a contractor to conduct the a vacancy survey. Working with an advisory board, Mayor Noble wrote, he selected the Rochester-based Center for Government Research to carry out the study.
The memo requests the council to approve taking $32,000 from the city’s contingency fund to carry out the research. If the study finds a less than 5 percent vacancy rate in eligible units, the city could move ahead with developing a rent control law.
According to a project outline provided by CGR, the company would begin its study by identifying which of the city’s 220 pre-1974 apartment buildings meet the law’s six-unit threshold and identifying eligible parcels which may not be included in the city’s list of traditional apartment buildings. The consultants would then develop a standardized questionnaire for landlords to determine vacancy rates at all eligible parcels. According to an informal estimate by City Assessor Dan Baker, 1,768 units in 80 apartment complexes or buildings could fall under the rent stabilization law.
Mayor Noble has signaled strong support for rent control in Kingston. He noted that the law would not impact small landlords, but is aimed at owners of larger apartment complexes. Noble added that in some of those complexes, new owners had recently jacked up rents on existing tenants by as much as 30 percent. “That’s just not sustainable on fixed incomes and the kind of incomes people have around here,” said Noble.
State of emergency
Once the survey is complete, Noble could ask the council to declare a rental emergency in the city. If that happens, the county would be required to appoint an advisory board made up of residents of Kingston and any other Ulster County communities that opt into the program. That board would meet annually to determine how much landlords at eligible units could increase rent in the coming year.
Noble added that he thinks the CGR study was a formality. Based on anecdotal evidence, he said it’s virtually certain that the city meets the vacancy threshold set out in the EPTA.
“It’s a shame that we have to spent $32,000 to show that, but it’s important that we comply with all aspects of the law so that it will hold up in court if it’s challenged,” said Noble.