By Erik Coler, President of the VID
The first time Aaron Carr tried to explain what a state-issued J-51 tax credit was, I had no idea what he was talking about. He might as well have been speaking another language. Aaron had recently left his job as chief of staff to a New York State Assembly Member to start his own nonprofit, the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI).
Aaron told me about something that he had encountered while working in the State Assembly but could not take on while working from within the system: bad landlords who break the law by taking advantage of the good-faith-based system of tax credits. Aaron explained that what he wanted to do was go after landlords with his new nonprofit. How he would do that was the ingenious part.
New York State issues a tax credit to landlords called a ‘J-51.’ This credit is issued to those who used their money to fix up their buildings, including major repairs on boilers, exteriors, etc. The owner receives huge tax breaks. However, as a rule, 100% of his or her units must be rent stabilized.
The problem we are facing in the Village today is that we have many bad landlords who either make it hard for tenants to remain in rent-stabilized units or outright break the law by illegally taking their units out of rent stabilization or harassing tenants into leaving. I will stress that not all landlords are bad or break the law. But it is important that we take on bad landlords who we know are breaking the law.
The core issue today is that we have a State Government that has a reactive approach to landlords that break the law. In New York State, abusing the J-51 tax credit means that, if you are a tenant, the burden is on you to find your rental history, understand the complexity of the laws of tax credits, and file the complaint. It is ridiculous for a government to expect people to invest the time required to do this and become experts in the law. The burden of fighting illegal violations of rent stabilization should be on the landlord, not the tenant.
The Village Independent Democrats (VID) connect tenants with lawyers on a contingency basis and no upfront payment. The VID proactively goes after landlords who are breaking the law, instead of being reactive like our State Government. We have organized two lawsuits here in the Village to take on landlords who have illegally destabilized their tenants’ apartments. We will have sued for 41 apartments, 28 of which have been recently re-stabilized. Without this kind of organizing, these tenants would still be paying the market rate. We have over 325 apartments that we believe have been illegally de-stabilized and we will fight until every one of those units are rent stabilized. We will take on any landlord who is hurting our community.