Dems for More
Rent Controls

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Albany Bureau

Ratcheting up the war over government rent protections, the Democratic-controlled Assembly today will propose a sweeping expansion of laws that limit rent hikes for more than 1 million city tenants.

While the plan stands no chance of approval without amendments, it stakes out a starting point for negotiations with the Republican-led state Senate whose leader has vowed to let the rent laws expire June 15.

The Assembly proposal, pitched at tenant groups that traditionally back Democrats, would maintain existing rent protections and add a host of new ones. Specifically, it would:

Make state rent protections permanent, eliminating the battles over renewing such laws.

Eliminate apartment leases, entitling tenants to permanent occupancy with periodic rent hikes decided by the city Rent Guidelines Board.

Set a 5% cap on the maximum rent hike allowed when rent-regulated apartments become vacant, down from the 9% allowed now.

Limit rent hikes allowed for major improvements such as window replacements. Landlords would be allowed to charge a maximum 6% rent surcharge for the work, and it would expire once the improvements were paid for. Current law authorizes a permanent 6% hike.

"It would be a tremendous victory for tenants," said Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), the bill's chief sponsor.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and a host of other Democrats are co-sponsors.

But they face a major battle with State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer), who has said he will let the rent laws lapse this year unless the state Legislature agrees to phasing out the protections over two years.

Bruno's plan would maintain rent protections for the elderly, poor and disabled.

Bruno spokesman John McArdle welcomed the Assembly bill as a starting point for debate but would not comment on the plan's substance.

Michael McKee of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition called the Assembly plan "very beneficial for tenants." But Bonnie Haber, president of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlords' group, said the proposal would hurt the city's economy.

Original Story Date: 02/20/97
Original Story Section: City Central