Rent Regs War Heating Up
Tenants and landlords
in battle royal

Daily News Albany Bureau

Tenants and landlords are fighting an all-out war over state rent regulations for 2 million people in the city and nearby suburbs.

The high-stakes struggle is intensifying as the clock ticks toward the June 15 expiration of the laws.

Both sides are massing legions of tenants and property owners, launching pressure campaigns and lobbying state lawmakers to influence the outcome.

"We have an army of volunteers," said Michael McKee, rent law campaign manager of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition. "These laws have to be renewed with no compromises."

But Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer), who vowed to "end rent regulation as we know it," said his opponents know their effort is "going to fail before it starts. It's an exercise in futility."

So emotional is the issue that Bruno is under extra security because of death threats.

Since World War II, many New York City tenants have been protected by a changing patchwork of laws that restrict the size of rent hikes landlords can charge for lease renewals and how much they can charge for apartments that become vacant.

Bruno has pledged to let the laws expire unless state leaders agree to a two-year phaseout of rent protections for all but the poor and elderly.

His threat sounded a call to arms for landlords and tenants. They're battling to influence Senate Republicans, who, so far, are sticking with Bruno, and the Democratic-controlled Assembly, which is lined up with the tenants.

Both sides are trying to sway Gov. Pataki. He supports gradual transition to market rents. But he also threatened to let the current laws expire if Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) links any compromise to negotiations for a new state budget.

Tenants have taken the fight to the streets. They are targeting Senate Republicans whose city and suburban districts include thousands of rent-regulated apartments.

In a door-to-door leafletting blitz, tenants are attacking the housing records of Sen. Guy Velella (R-Bronx), head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, and Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Nassau), the deputy majority leader.

Tenants also picketed a $5,000-a-plate Senate GOP fund-raiser in Manhattan on March 20. They distributed fake $5,000 bills featuring a picture of Velella with a caption that read: "Love them landlord dollars."

The battle escalates this weekend, as hundreds of tenants plot strategy at the headquarters of District Council 37, the largest city union.

Tenants also plan to set up phone banks to lobby state lawmakers. And hundreds of anxious renters are expected to descend on the state capitol on May 20 to press their cause with lawmakers.

Senate Democrats plan a procedural maneuver aimed at forcing their GOP colleagues into an embarrassing roll-call vote on the rent laws.

Landlord groups are fighting back. They're eying a TV and radio ad campaign to argue that some well-heeled tenants who don't need rent protection are taking unfair advantage of the state laws.

Original Story Date: 033197
Original Story Section: City Central