Baruch alum challenges state tenants’ law for condo conversion

Jared Maloney

New York City has always had a fraught and controversial relationship with its real estate, with the ownership and rentership of properties being a historically important source of wealth, status and power. While the players and dynamics have changed over the years, property ownership is still the most reliable flashpoint for conflicts over who the city really belongs to.

The latest chapter of this conflict stems from a recent change in the city’s renters’ law that has made it more difficult to convert rental spaces into condominiums, setting in motion a battle between two competing visions of what home ownership in New York City should look like.

The Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act was passed into state law in 2019, making it much more difficult to convert the majority of rental buildings into condos by increasing the amount of units required to be owned, as opposed to the amount rented within the building.

Now, at least 51% of a building’s apartments must be owned by its tenants before that building can be converted into a condominium, thus evicting non-owners, compared to 15% previously.

The passage of this law resulted in condo development plummeting within the city, with an 80% decrease in conversion projects within the first year of the law being signed. This has led to an uproar among condo property developers, which has been spearheaded by Francis Greenburger, the founder of private equity firm Time Equities Inc. and an alum of Baruch College.

Greenburger’s firm is responsible for converting more than 10,000 rental units into condos or co-ops, and he believes the continued expansion of the home ownership opportunities for residents is vital to the city’s continued growth and prosperity.

Greenburger has resolved to fight this law, his first step being to gather concrete and unbiased data on the scale of the decrease in condo conversions since its inception. To achieve this, he has turned to Baruch, which has created a report led by professor Yildiray Yildirim to investigate the issue.

This report has found that only five condo conversion plans were submitted to the U.S. Attorney General’s office, the lowest rate seen since the 1960s.

The study also cited that renters within most buildings due for conversion were given a choice of buying a new home for a 30% to 35% discount, which was shown to increase home ownership within a given neighborhood on average, by 1.3%.

This was shown to be a positive change by the study, as rising home ownership is usually correlated with rising wealth within that neighborhood.

“Increasing homeownership in the city by 1 percent is a big deal,” Yildirim told The Real Deal. “When you increase the homeownership rate, then you’re creating wealth.”

It also seems to corroborate with many developers’ message that increased home ownership was ultimately a good thing for the city as homeowners were more likely to put down roots and spend money within the community, with residents taking more interest in local affairs, such as school quality and public amenities.

This study convinced Greenburger that he is right to say that this law will ultimately cause more harm than good by making it more difficult to create and upgrade new apartments for the city’s growing demand for affordable housing.

He feels that now is a particularly good moment for condo conversions, as interest rates are still low and the demand for affordable condos has increased in the last few years.

Additionally, he is willing to set aside some of the profits from his conversion projects to go towards affordable housing in New York City, which he hopes will go towards convincing lawmakers to repeal this law.

The Ticker reached out to Greenburger’s office, but it declined the opportunity for comment.