They Rent & Rave To Ax Hikes

By MICHAEL O. ALLEN
Daily News Staff Writer

Facing an unprecedented loss of state rent protections, hundreds of tenants packed a municipal hearing yesterday and called on the City Council to preserve the regulations.

Carrying signs and shouting at landlord advocates, the tenants demanded that the Council meet an April 1 deadline for reauthorizing laws that restrict the size of rent hikes for more than 1 million city apartments.

Walter Gambin, 52, an upper West Side tenant, said renters are being pinched from all sides, including by politicians serving the interests of landlords. "They've got a lot," Gambin said of the landlords. "We don't. Why do they want to take more from us?"

The tenants jeered as Richard Anderson, president of the New York Building Congress, defended state Senate plans to let the rent laws expire in three months.

Anderson said government rent regulations have depressed the city housing market to the point where developers have shied from constructing rental buildings.

The hearing, where one tenant was tossed out of City Hall for rowdiness, marked the latest skirmish in an emotionally charged battle over rent laws.

At yesterday's hearing, the tenants demanded that the Council certify a recent survey that found the rental vacancy rate in the five boroughs remains below 5%, the official measure of a housing emergency.

The Council has until April 1 to vote on the issue.

Council members are expected to approve the politically sensitive emergency designation by an overwhelming margin, and Mayor Giuliani facing reelection this year is expected to sign it.

The focus then will shift to Albany, where State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer), a long-time foe of government rent regulations, has threatened to end the rent-protection system.

Bruno's threat has taken on heightened importance because the GOP-controlled state Senate can simply let the rent laws expire June 15, despite opposition from the Democratic-run Assembly.

Gearing up for the battle, tenants yesterday warned City Council members not to reverse their long-standing support for the rent laws. Some advocates showed up at the hearing with lists showing honor and dishonor rolls of Council members who in the past have voted to curb the protections.

"I don't think City Council members running for reelection want to get caught on the side of landlords," said Jenny Laurie of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenant group.

Original Story Date:
Original Story Section: City Central