Perhaps the most famous rent-regulation program in the United States is in New York City, where nearly half of the apartments are rent-regulated in some way. Here, there are two kinds of regulated rent: rent control and rent stabilized. Only 21,000 apartments are still rent controlled and nearly half of the city's 2.1 million apartments are rent stabilized. In other words, if you want to find housing you can afford in NYC, stabilized apartments are your best best.
What's the difference between rent-controlled and rent-stabilized?
Rent control means that the rent can't under any circumstances, ever, go past a maximum amount that's decided by the city. Landlords have to apply to increase the rent and if approved they can increase it by 7.5% annually. When someone moves out of a rent controlled apartment it gets either rent stabilized (keep reading) if it's in a building with six or more units or becomes a regular, market-rate apartment if it's in a smaller building.
Stabilized apartments in New York were created by a series of state laws passed from 1943 through 1974, and modified through 2015. Each year that these units have been in the stabilization system, they have seen their rents incrementally rise by the maximum legal rate of usually one or two percentage points each year. Once a unit’s legal rent hits $2,700 per month, a landlord can remove it entirely from the rent regulation regime, and charge whatever rent they choose. You can imagine that a unit that has seen 50 or 60 years of small rent increases will eventually hit the maximum amount and become unregulated.
How can I find rent-stabilized housing in New York?
If you want more affordable housing in New York, your best bet is to find stabilized housing. There are two ways to go about this: go searching for apartments in buildings from before 1974, or look for brand new buildings that got tax breaks.
Stabilized units in buildings from before 1974
New York legislators passed a law in 1974 that stabilized all apartments with 6 or more units. It also said that anytime a rent controlled apartment became "decontrolled" it would automatically enter the stabilization system. That's why there's a good chance that if you live in an apartment form before then it is stabilized.
The only way it wouldn't be is if it got deregulated. Stabilized apartments become destabilized when the rent goes past $2,700 or if the tenant makes more than $200,000 per year.
Buildings that got tax breaks
The rest of the stabilized apartments in NYC are new and were built by developers who benefited from tax breaks called 421A and J-51. In order to get these tax breaks, you need to designate a certain percentage of your building as stabilized.
There are a lot less of the units around— 22,877 new units in 2017—but they're also easier to spot. To get one of these apartments you need to enter a housing lottery, and you can find a list of active lotteries at the NYC Housing Connect website. Your eligibility for a lottery is based on the ratio between your annual income and the median income of the entire city.
Some of these apartments are reserved for low-income renters, so the maximum percentage of NYC’s medium income might be, say, 40%. Other lotteries might be for middle income or even higher income renters, so the maximum salary could be something like 150% of the city’s median income.
Are there any other stabilization programs?
There are also nearly 260,000 apartments in NYC that are stabilized through other programs or are just plain subsidized housing. The biggest "other" program is called Mitchell Lama, and this program represents over 105,000 stabilized apartments currently on the market (but probably not vacant). Here's a list of apartment buildings that are part of the Mitchell Lama program.
If you want to look for all options for stabilized housing (as opposed to just units that you can get by winning a housing lottery) try searching the state government’s affordable housing search website.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.