New York State regulators unexpectedly released updated guidelines in the wake of last year’s sweeping rent reform laws passed by lawmakers. The adjustments include a total ban on broker fees associated with rental apartments for consumers.
In February 2019, a set of New York City lawmakers, led by Councilman Keith Powers, attempted to pass legislation that would limit brokers’ fees to one month’s rent. In pricey neighborhoods, a brokers’ fee for a renter could be as much as 15 percent of the annual rent, due at the time of the lease signing.
The ban goes further than Powers’ proposal.
“No, a landlord’s agent cannot be compensated by the prospective tenant for bringing about the meeting of the minds,” guidance from the New York State Department of State reads, clarifying that no broker fees can be charged.
The Real Estate Board of New York, New York City’s trade organization for real estate agents, immediately announced its opposition to the changes.
We oppose @NYSDOS’s guidance on rental broker fees. If enacted, it would negatively impact consumers, residential brokers in our community, and tenants. As we care deeply about New York City, we respectfully urge DOS to reverse course.
— Real Estate Board NY (@REBNY) February 5, 2020
Individual agents and brokers also blasted the decision, saying it would eventually pass the costs onto consumers in the form of higher rent.
“Over the last few years, the industry has been leaning toward the landlord paying the broker fee so this is not a monumental shift,” Martin Eiden an agent with Compass Real Estate, told Inman. “However the fees will be passed on to renters in the form of higher rents. As such, renters may be priced out of options as landlord look to have renters making a yearly income 40-50 times the rent.”
Steven Goldschmidt, senior vice president and director of sales of Warburg Realty specifically criticized regulators for the lack of notice, regarding the decision.
“This was dropped on everyone without an opportunity to comment or take action — usually regulations, especially major shifts in policies, have some period of public comment,” Goldschmidt said. “It might be good politics but a very bad policy. Owners have rights too.”
Goldschmidt said this will be another example of unintended consequences, where politicians believe the adjustment will benefit tenants, but, instead, will drive rents up and leave tenants to fend for themselves without representation.
“The ‘major’ landlords will usually find ways to adjust, hire staff to handle their rentals in-house, and absorb some or all of the cost,” Goldschmidt said. “That impact will truly be felt by small property owners (or owners of individual condo units) who need agents to find qualified renters and who can’t afford to absorb the extra expense without increasing rents.”
“It will surely be felt by the everyday agent, especially in the outer boroughs, whose income will now be severely impacted if not wiped out by a state agency, not by the high-end brokers and brokerages.”
But many New York City renters took to social media to share, “horror” stories over the thousands of dollars it cost them to move into New York City apartments.
Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board, said she and her roommates paid more than $10,000 to move into their first apartment. Lindsey Boylan, a candidate for Congress, said she could only find apartments on Craigslist and was never on leases, due to the high fees.
I lived in 9 apartments in 10 years when I moved to NYC. My name wasn’t on leases because I never had the money for the broker’s fee & found everything through Craig’s List. I was lucky – and hope this change makes New York dreams possible for more people. https://t.co/aR2O2LSnjc
— Lindsey Boylan (@LindseyBoylan) February 6, 2020
The overall legislation, passed in June, makes the state’s rent regulation laws permanent, without an act of the legislature to repeal or terminate them. Previously they have been scheduled to expire every four to eight years. The law also made sweeping changes to the ways landlords can increase rent.