Save Room for Sen. Al As Rent Challenger

Daily News Staff Writer

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato waded into the rent war yesterday, saying state officials should change laws that protect 2 million New York City-area tenants but shouldn't do it overnight.

The state's most powerful Republican said state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno's threat to let the laws expire June 15 had sown "fear and panic" among tenants in rent-regulated apartments.

"To simply terminate rent control would . . . create tremendous burdens for many people who absolutely would not be able to find a place to live," D'Amato said at City Hall. "That is not something we could tolerate."

However, he added that state lawmakers should authorize landlords to charge free-market rents to tenants "who are in a position to pay more and who are taking advantage of an old law."

The remarks triggered immediate attacks from tenant advocates.

"We can't tolerate weakening or watering down of the system any further," said Michael McKee of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition. "They intend to chip away at the system every time it comes up for renewal until there's nothing left."

But Bruno and landlord groups praised the Long Island Republican for supporting changes in the law. The landlords accused tenant advocates of blocking any legislative compromise.

"The senator is right that we don't need to create unnecessary panic," said Joseph Strasburg, director of the Rent Stabilization Association, the city's largest landlord group.

Bruno, an upstate Republican and close D'Amato ally, has vowed repeatedly to let the rent laws expire in about 10 weeks unless state leaders agree to phase out the protections by 1999 for all but the elderly, poor and disabled.

But the Democratic-controlled Assembly has balked at any changes and passed a bill to make the regulations permanent instead of bringing them up for renewal every few years.

The issue has left other Albany business at a stalemate including action on a state budget that is two days overdue.

D'Amato's comments appeared designed to position him with Pataki, another close ally who, like the senator, is up for reelection next year.

Pataki has called for phasing out most rent laws but has tried to stake out turf between landlords and tenants.

"He's working hard to be a moderate," Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) said of D'Amato. "I believe [for] both George Pataki and Sen. D'Amato, the role they play in rent regulations will be critical for how they do in New York City to win reelection."

Original Story Date: 040397
Original Story Section: City Central