It's been two years of rent freezes, but now landlords of a million regulated apartments are demanding a hefty hike — and tenants are fighting back. NY1's Natalie Duddridge reports.

For two years, tenants in the city's 1 million rent stabilized apartments have gone without any rent increases. Now, landlords are saying it's time their tenants pay up.

"Tenants, frankly, have gotten a break," said Jack Freund of the Rent Stabilization Association. "So now it's time to help owners pay their real estate taxes, maintain their buildings, and provide decent living conditions for their tenants."

Thursday, the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords, called for a 4 percent hike on one-year leases and an 8 percent hike on two-year leases.

The proposal kicked off the annual back and forth between tenants and landlords before the city's Rent Guidelines Board.

Landlords say they're basing their proposal on a 6.2 percent jump in average operating costs this year, and a projected 4.5 percent increase next year.

Tenants at Thursday's hearing said they are dubious.

"They do this every year, and they go through this song and dance," said tenant Joseph Jesselli. "These are boom times. Landlords are making money hand over fist. 

Last year, the Rent Guidelines Board voted to freeze rents on one-year leases for the second straight year, and approved a two percent hike on two-year leases, which tenant groups said was too much.

"I work with tenants every day. I'm hearing, 'I can't pay my rent.' We're seeing homelessness go up, and we're obviously seeing tenants struggling to make ends-meet, especially in areas where incomes are $21,000 a year," said Sheila Garcia, a tenant member of the Rent Guidelines Board.

Even some tenants who say they have good full-time jobs argued that any increase would be a back breaker because their salaries are not keeping up.

"I work in the municipal building," one woman said. "Some of my coworkers even complain about the fact that the salaries that the city's paying us aren't enough for them to be able to live in the city."

All nine members of the Rent Guidelines Board were appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is up for re-election and has made clear that his sympathies lie with tenants.

The board is scheduled to make a preliminary recommendation next week, and a final decision June 27.