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New York state lawmakers pass new protections for renters

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New York (AFP)

Lawmakers in New York state on Friday passed a bill aimed at protecting lower-income families from skyrocketing rents -- a move seen as a victory for tenants amid a crippling lack of affordable housing.

The vote -- the culmination of a years-long battle between powerful real estate owners and housing rights advocates -- became possible after the November elections, which left Democrats in full control of the state legislature.

"Tenants have pounded on Albany's door for decades for the protections they deserve. We've stood with them, fought for them tooth-and-nail, and now the wait is finally over," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said after compromise legislation was reached this week.

The text -- which Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to quickly sign into law -- eliminates rules that allowed building owners to increase the rent when an apartment changed hands.

It also will prevent new tenants from being charged for extensive renovations via increased rents, and help keep owners from reducing the number of rent-controlled apartments.

Since 1994, about 300,000 rent-controlled apartments have vanished in the city of New York alone, according to official figures.

That has forced low-income and even middle-class families to move, fueling gentrification of the Big Apple, one of the world's top 10 most expensive cities.

While rents vary by neighborhood, monthly rent for an average two-bedroom apartment in New York has increased from $1,938 in January 2011 to $2,831 in January 2019, according to industry data analysis from Rainmaker Insights.

The new law should directly affect about 2.4 million New Yorkers, out of a population of roughly 8.5 million, who live in close to one million rent-controlled apartments.

The legislation only applies to buildings built before 1974, with six or more units.

The measure does not just affect New York City; it also offers protections across the state of 20 million people, including for those renting mobile homes, from giant rent hikes, questionable evictions and steep security deposits.

It would allow cities and towns statewide to set up rent stabilization systems.

"These reforms mean we can go from just holding the line to actually growing the number of apartments New Yorkers can afford," said De Blasio, one of nearly two dozen Democratic presidential candidates.

Many senators who supported the bill said Friday that they had heard countless testimonials from desperate renters, as well as from an increasing number of homeless people.

"Every day, I'm talking to people who say 'Where am I going to live?' We can't continue to pretend it's not a crisis," said Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Real estate developers argued their side till the bitter end, suggesting that the new rules would lead owners to put off needed repairs.

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