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2017 The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium Newsroom finalist

The Rent Racket

Finalist(s)
Cezary Podkul, Marcelo Rochabrun, Sisi Wei, Lena Groeger and Ken Schwencke

Organization
ProPublica

Award
The Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, Medium Newsroom

Program
2017

Entry Links
Link 1
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Link 3

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About the Project

In a powerful series that spurred executive and legislative remedies, ProPublica reporters Cezary Podkul and Marcelo Rochabrun documented the backroom deals and official indifference – fostered by the real estate industry’s lavish campaign contributions – that have undermined legal protections for New York tenants. Among their findings:

  • Landlords and developers were enjoying massive tax breaks in return for agreeing to limit rent hikes, only to break their promises, which city and state officials didn’t enforce.
  • Thousands of apartments listed as rent-stabilized by the city were mysteriously missing from state records. The gap — some 200,000 — included tens of thousands of tax-subsidized apartments that should have been subject to rent limits but weren’t. Two state legislators immediately introduced a bill to increase penalties for landlords who violate rent regulations by over-charging tenants.
  • Nearly two thirds of the rental properties receiving the tax break known as 421-a, which costs New York about $1.4 billion a year, had never been approved for it, largely because owners had failed to show that they had capped rent increases. Following publication, the City Council introduced legislation requiring the city housing department to audit at least 20 percent of buildings receiving 421-a benefits each year, and the mayor vowed to improve enforcement.

ProPublica also published a wealth of data to inform New York tenants of their legal rights, including two interactive databases:

  • A map of 450,000 eviction cases filed between January 2013 and June 2015 citywide.
  • An interactive map that lets readers know if their own apartments might be receiving a tax-subsidy and therefore are entitled to rent stabilization. Following publication, City Council members have reached out to ask ProPublica for more details regarding the buildings they see on the map inside the neighborhoods they represent.