Queens lawmaker proposes tax relief bill for tenants
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 19, 2017 | 492 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Standing in front of LeFrak City last week, State Senator Jose Peralta unveiled legislation that would provide more tax relief for tenants and homeowners.

The bill would increase the eligibility of tenants who can receive tax credits, called the “property tax circuit breaker,” from a household income of $18,000 to $75,000.

According to the senator, the $18,000 income threshold was established some three decades ago under former Governor Mario Cuomo’s administration. He called it “completely outdated.”

Under the bill, the eligibility level for property values would also increase from $85,000 to $200,000.

“This piece of legislation will make the city more affordable for hardworking New Yorkers,” said Peralta. “Hopefully, help is on the way.”

The proposal also calls for an increase to the tax credit itself. New Yorkers under 65 years old would have a maximum of $400, and those older than 65 would get a tax credit of up to $800.

Peralta called the tax relief “a necessity,” considering the ever-growing cost of living and rate of inflation. New York, he noted, is the third most expensive state to live in.

He said it was “inconceivable” that some residents pay half of their income on rent. Instead, he said, renters should pay no more than 25 percent of their paycheck for housing.

The senator said the state’s rent laws are expiring in 2018, so “everything is up for discussion” this upcoming legislative session. Peralta said he’ll push for other bills that help tenants, including legislation to end vacancy bonus loopholes.

Currently, when a rent-stabilized tenant leaves the apartment, landlords can increase rent by up to 20 percent every time the unit turns over. Peralta said this incentivizes “bad actors” to harass rent-regulated tenants to move out.

He’s also supporting legislation to support tenants with preferential rents. Under current law, landlords can offer tenants a rent-stabilized apartment for less than the legally regulated rent. But when their leases are up for renewal, landlords can raise the rent significantly.

“The reality is that many times, these bad landlords do not make tenants aware that they pay preferential rent,” Peralta said. “They find out later their rent can be increased almost double when it’s time for renewal.”

In parts of Peralta’s western Queens district, the senator said this has happened to 30 percent of apartments in a building. To address preferential rents, the legislation would require preferential rent lease renewals to be based on the initial, lower rent.

When asked how the Republican tax plan in Congress would affect his proposal, Peralta said it’s something he will have to “wait and see.”

“We’re going to see what the final version looks like,” he said. “But we are taking that into consideration in terms of how it’s going to affect us.”

Malikah Khadijah Shabazz, president of the LeFrak City Tenants Association, said what has really hurt residents in the complex is Major Capital Improvements (MCIs). In state law, the owner of a rent-regulated building can pass on the costs of an improvement project onto the residents.

The charge goes through a state agency, which reviews and approves the rent increase. Tenants are then charged by room, and the cost is added on to their rent. She encouraged tenants to contest MCI charges.

“Even though they may be entitled to an MCI, they might not be entitled to the full amount they’re asking for,” she said. “You have to go through the process, a lot of people don’t take the time to go through it.

“All those dollars together add up,” she added. “They don’t really see it coming until it’s actually enforced, that’s when all the problems come.”

Though Peralta’s bill has not been passed in Albany yet, she said it “can’t hurt” to have more relief.

“Every little bit helps,” Shabazz said. “I don’t expect a large amount, that would be foolish for us to think that.”

Peralta said there is currently legislation being considered to limit MCI costs to the life of the expense. If passed, tenants would only have to pay additional fees until the cost of the project is covered. The senator is one of the co-sponsors of the bill.

“If they have an MCI and the person moves out and their children takes over the apartment, their children will be paying for the MCI, that has to end,” he said. “We’re going to be pushing to make that a reality.”

The senator said he’s also in favor of repealing the Urstadt Law, which takes away power from the city to approve its own rent laws. He believes it’s a local municipality issue, so cities should have the responsibility over it.

“I would have less gray hair if that were to happen,” Peralta said. “Give it to the city, let the city deal with it.”
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