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How Big Real Estate Money is Leaving New York Tenants in the Dust

New York’s powerful real estate industry is engaged in parallel fights to block legislation that would require landlords to have good cause for evicting tenants and to retain a controversial property tax exemption that costs New York City residents billions of dollars annually without meaningfully expanding affordable housing.

The Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), and the Real Estate Board of NY (REBNY) are three large lobbying organizations that represent some of New York City’s biggest and richest property owners. The groups bring in millions of dollars per year in revenue and have a powerful presence in Albany where they oppose all legislation that would give more rights or bargaining power to tenants.

These groups often claim to represent small “mom and pop” landlords all over the State, but in fact, they are composed of the wealthy elite. Their board members and top executives take home salaries larger than what many New Yorkers earn in a decade.

The real estate industry was an important force behind former New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, and has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into New York State politics over the years. After Cuomo resigned in 2021 and was succeeded by his Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, the real estate industry swiftly fell in line to support her, contributing more than $5 million dollars to Hochul’s campaign account from October 2021 through mid-January 2022.

This report examines the political influence operations of RSA, CHIP, and REBNY, which extend from traditional lobbying to supporting Democratic and Republican politicians with millions of dollars in campaign contributions to forming front groups to give the impression of broad support for landlords’ policy agenda. We found that since 2018 these groups’ political influence, public relations, and litigation spending totals more than $18.8 million.

Currently these real estate groups are engaged in a fight to preserve “no fault eviction” in New York, which allows landlords to evict tenants without good cause, and to continue the controversial 421-a tax exemption, which exempts new buildings from property taxes for up to 35 years.

Because these advocacy efforts are ongoing, we do not yet know how much the real estate lobby is planning to spend fighting tenants’ rights and supporting development subsidies. However, if this year is like recent years, we can expect large NYC landlords’ groups to spend millions of dollars more on political influence efforts to block any expansion of rights for renters and to preserve lucrative subsidies.

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Key Findings:

  • RSA, CHIP, and REBNY and their front groups have spent at least $7.7 million on lobbying and advocacy from 2018 through 2021. The bulk of this spending came in 2019, when these groups spent a combined $4.7 million on lobbying efforts including opposition to tenant protections passed that year. This year, the RSA, CHIP, and REBNY-backed front group “Homeowners for an Affordable New York” disclosed a $1.4 million lobbying contract, which on its own exceeds these groups’ combined lobbying expenses in each of the years 2018, 2020, and 2021.
  • RSA, CHIP, and REBNY have created misleading front groups claiming to represent homeowners but members of these industry groups collectively control well over 500,000 homes in New York City — nearly 25% of the housing stock. All three groups have dumped millions into misleading front groups like “Homeowners for an Affordable NY,” “Taxpayers for an Affordable NY,” and “Affordable Rent for All.” The average portfolio size of board members of REBNY, RSA, and CHIP is over 7,000 homes, and some board members own well over 30,000 units of housing.
  • RSA, CHIP, and REBNY PACs and board members spent a combined $8.8 million supporting New York political candidates from 2018 through January 14, 2022. Landlord groups’ board members and PACs gave $1.3 million to New York Governor Kathy Hochul and $2.1 million to state Senate and Assembly legislators and candidates. The groups also gave more than $588,000 to New York State Democratic Party committees and $1.1 million to Republican Party committees. These totals do not include donations from corporations or LLCs, so total political donations from these landlords are likely much higher.
  • RSA, CHIP, and REBNY have spent more than $2.3 million combined on law firms suing to overturn rent control and tenant protections since 2018. In tax returns, RSA and CHIP reported spending $1,031,394 and $539,446 respectively with Mayer Brown LLP, which is representing the groups in their lawsuit seeking to eliminate rent control in New York State. REBNY has reported spending at least $911,659 with Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, which represented the group in its successful suit to overturn the ban on charging brokers fees to tenants. These totals are almost assuredly higher, but 2020 tax filings for CHIP and REBNY are currently unavailable.

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