Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Where Do We Go Now?

By Serin ChoiPublished October 3, 2013

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When discussing housing and cost of living in New York City, the tendency to focus on exorbitant rents of posh neighborhoods and the small size of apartments pushes more important issues into the background. However, one borough is ignored completely yet has an even more pressing problem"”in the Bronx, the landlords are manipulating fees to force out their current tenants.
When discussing housing and cost of living in New York City, the tendency to focus on exorbitant rents of posh neighborhoods and the small size of apartments pushes more important issues into the background. While the aforementioned issues are valid, people and the media often concentrate only on Manhattan and Brooklyn renting problems.  However, one borough is ignored completely yet has an even more pressing problem—in the Bronx, the landlords are manipulating fees to force out their current tenants.

            Last week the New York Times interviewed tenants in the Bronx who have been forced to pay non-rent, and often non-applicable, fees.  For example, one major Bronx landlord, Chestnut Holdings, charged tenants in rent-stabilized apartments fees for having air conditioners or washers and dryers. They also levied one hundred dollar fees for sending notices about late payments.  These fees are especially reprehensible because landlords who oversee rent-stabilized apartments receive significant tax breaks in exchange for agreeing to maintain rents within a certain price bracket. Currently, the program stipulates that the rent must stay under $2,000 a month.  If the rent goes up to $2,500 a month and the tenants gross income is $175,000 a month, the landlords are no longer eligible for the tax breaks.

            However, landlords who currently have rent stabilized apartments have been exploiting a major loophole: non-rent fees are not considered a part of the rent.  Thus, the can charge tenants a fee on pretty much anything.  The Community Action for Safe Action found that Chestnut Holdings have charged upwards of thousands of dollars of fees.  If the tenants cannot afford to pay these fees, the landlord has grounds to evict them; of course this is only if the tenants have not already moved out in order to save themselves from bankruptcy.  Through this eviction, landlords can attract new tenants who often pay more than the old ones.

            The Bronx is changing, and so is the relationship between landlords and tenants.  While the landlords used to be families who owned and maintained buildings, the trend has shifted to large corporations who own and operate many of the buildings, and they have a bottom line to meet.  While it is understandable why a company would want to drive up their profits in any "legal" way possible, there is an injustice factor.  The Bronx is not filled with wealthy tenants who can easily absorb any fees—the residents, just like the tenants of Manhattan and Brooklyn, often spend about half of their incomes on rent.  The difference is, their income is much smaller than the residents in the other boroughs.  This begs the question—when people can no longer afford the Bronx, where can they go?  Already seen as the most disadvantaged borough in New York City, if housing in the Bronx becomes unaffordable… what can lower-income tenants actually afford?