BRONX, N.Y. - Stephanie Kirnon owns and manages a 100-year-old Wakefield apartment building she inherited from her father.
It needs a lot of TLC, from a $60,000 rewiring project to a less expensive lobby renovation.
All 26 apartments are rent-regulated apartments. Kirnon says that leaves her with barely enough to cover expenses.
But for some work in the five floor building she had to take out a mortgage, like the $40,000 she borrowed for a new boiler and hot water heater.
For such major capital improvements, state law allows landlords to pass along the cost to tenants.
"It’s like $3.35 per room that was granted. So it came to like $14.20 per apartment. That’s an increase," Kirnon said.
It raised tenant Joan Powell's rent to $1,160 a month.
Joan Powell: Everybody want a stable rents.
Michael Herzenberg: But you’re pretty okay with it going up 14 bucks?
Joan Powell: Yea but that don't mean I want it go up 14 bucks next year.
State lawmakers, however, are weighing whether to eliminate the law that allows the cost of major capital improvements to be added to the rents of regulated buildings. If they do the rent increases would be limited to what the Rent Guidelines Board approves each year for all regulated units. Some landlords say that would lead them to delay or in some cases cancel badly needed upgrades, resulting in their buildings falling into states of disrepair.
Kirnon says upcoming roof repairs will set her back nearly $30,000 and passing the cost onto tenants would be a last resort. Still, she’s actively pushing elected leaders not to take away her right to do so. She’s even featured in an ad by the landlord lobby pushing for what it calls responsible rent reform.
Stephanie Kirnon: I do use the laws to improve the building, so I do take advantage in terms of maintaining the building.
Michael Herzenberg: But not to enrich yourself is what you’re saying.
Stephanie Kirnon: It has not enriched me [laughs]
It’s possible state lawmakers compromise and instead of eliminating the law, reduce the amount landlords can increase rents to pay for major capital improvements.