Laura Bliss is CityLab’s west coast bureau chief, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.
Nearly half of the city’s housing stock is. A new tool will help you find out.
Ah, the New York City rent-stabilized apartment. Tucked inside multi-unit buildings dated 1947 to 1973, these apartments come guarded by maximum allowable rent increases, usually between 2 to 6 percent. Tenants enjoy extra legal protections from eviction, and the right to renew their leases as they wish—more or less indefinitely.
Sounds as mythical as a Manhattan journalist with a $40,000 shoe closet, right?
It shouldn’t. As of 2011, there were 986,840 rent-stabilized apartments in New York City, about 45 percent of the total housing stock. Yet many New Yorkers who live in rent-stabilized units (or who used to) don’t know that they do, because their landlords never told them so.
There are all kinds of loopholes and ambiguities that can lead to this situation: Some landlords illegally coerce tenants to leave in order to remove units from stabilization, or tack on “renovations”—necessary or not—to do the same. Landlords are supposed to register all stabilized units annually with the state’s Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), but this is pretty much voluntary, so many don’t.
How do you find out if you live in a regulated apartment? “Am I Rent Stabilized?” is a great place to start. Through a FOIA request to the DHCR, cartographer Chris Henrick obtained data on all New York City buildings with rent-stabilized units. Punch in your address, and the site will tell you if your building is likely to be part of the program.
Because buildings can contain a mix of rent-stabilized and market-rate apartments, it’s hard to say for certain whether individual apartments are actually stabilizied. Plus, again, not all buildings are registered. Still, if the map suggests there’s a chance your unit is regulated, Henrick recommends taking the following steps:
- Request your rent history from the DHCR;
- Look at what former tenants paid and whether their rent was stabilized (a small “RS” denotes this on official rent histories). If it was:
- Get in touch with a tenants rights group, or file a “rent overcharge” complaint with the DHCR. You may qualify for back rent; one tenant in this situation was recently awarded $112,000 after filing a complaint.
Henrick presented the map at the North American Cartographic Information Society’s annual meeting last week. “I’m just trying to spread awareness around the issue, and use open data as a prompt for civic action,” he says, thought he’s also working to bring more certainty to the tool. Henrick recently collaborated with cartographer and hacker John Krauss to parse through and map data from millions of property-tax bills, which indicate whether apartments are rent-stabilized. (These records are freely available on the NYC’s Department of Finance website, dating back to the mid-2000s.)
The map that Krauss produced uses that data to show the change in rent stabilization across the city since 2007. It’s a stunning insight into where the most stabilized apartments are being lost, and where landlords have likely stopped registering units with the state.
Now, many take the stance that rent regulation isn’t good city policy: It’s outdated, reduces overall affordability, and tends not to help the truly disadvantaged. Regardless, tenants have a right to know if they’re getting the run-around when it comes to rent—or much worse.