Consumer Alert: Rochester City Council takes first step toward rent control

Consumer Alert: City Council taking steps towards rent control

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Rochester City Council took a crucial step toward rent control in Wednesday night’s board meeting, something housing advocates have wanted for years.

“All we need now is bold action,” a speaker said at the meeting.

News10NBC’s Deanna Dewberry has been following Rochester’s housing crisis for more than a year. The vote was significant, but there are many more steps before rent control could be a reality in Rochester.

“A resolution relating to the consideration of a new rental vacancy study. All in favor please say aye. Any opposed? Motion carries,” the council announced, followed by applause. The City Council doesn’t usually applaud after the passage of a resolution, but this one was hard-fought by housing advocates.

Back in January, with a wind chill of zero, renters rights groups were joined by some city council members calling for a new vacancy study. That’s because state law mandates that cities must have a vacancy rate of less than 5% for the city to consider rent control measures, and a study is needed to determine that.

“Housing is a human right. Housing is a human right!” advocates chanted.

Interestingly, the city has already taken bold action once before. It paid $40,000 for a vacancy study in 2019 that indicated a vacancy rate of 9%. But only 37% of landlords responded to the survey, hardly enough, advocates say, to get an accurate vacancy count. So they called for a do-over.

“Rent increases got to go,” protesters chanted.

If the new study indicates Rochester qualifies for rent control, rent increases could be capped in buildings built before 1974 with more than six units.

For example, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the fair market rent for a one-bedroom in Rochester last year was $950. This year it’s $1,050. That’s an increase of just over 10.5%. But if Rochester qualifies for and opts in to rent control protections, 2023’s rent of $950 would have been capped at the five-year average of a city’s rent guidelines board or 7.5%, whichever is lower. So this year, the increase would be capped at about $1,021, almost $350 a year less than current market rates.

But the vote at this City Council meeting only authorized consideration of a vacancy study. The ball now lands squarely in the mayor’s court to come up with a proposal.

The mayor’s staff now has a lot of work to do. In addition to coming up with a proposal, that study will have to be funded. The mayor’s staff will come up with those numbers, and the City Council will hold a vote.

As far as that vacancy study goes, there’s a new state law requiring landlords to participate or risk a $1,000 fine.

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