Hell Freezes Over: Tenants Get Huge Win Over Landlords

Housing activists finally got something to cheer about on Monday. A State Supreme court judge struck down the Rent Guidelines Board's 2008 ruling that critics said unfairly targeted hundreds of thousands of poorer tenants. The decision by Justice Emily Jane Goodman paves the way for as many as 300,000 tenants to seek refunds. The city vows to appeal.

For the past two years, the board had ordered fixed-dollar rent increases instead of the usual percentage increases. Goodman's decision grew out of the board's 2008 action, which specifically affected tenants who had been living in their apartments for six years and who paid less than $1,000 a month in rent. Critics called it an unfair tax on the poor. The board's 2008 decision resulted in the highest rent increase in years and provoked especially strong reaction by angry crowds (see above video from October 2009) and public shouting matches between landlords and tenants.

Goodman ruled that the Rent Guidelines Board didn't have the authority to impose what amounted to a separate rent increase for poorer tenants. The 2008 ruling, she said, penalized tenants "for failing to move in a city that has virtually no affordable housing."

Housing activist Ellen Davidson was quoted by the Daily News as saying, "The board, which had been exceeding its authority for years — it stops them in their tracks. It's a huge victory."

Last year, as the board was preparing to once again hike rents, mayoral candidate Bill Thompson noted that Mayor Mike Bloomberg controls the board and ought to freeze rents for a year while tenants are suffering. But Bloomberg defended the board, saying, "I'll leave it to them. They've got to make a balance, and you're never going to please everybody."


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