Pols With No Rent Worries
GOP state senators live big;
three are landlords

Daily News Albany Bureau

Seven key Republican lawmakers who helped block a vote to renew state rent protections don't have to worry about the looming expiration of the laws they all live in private homes.

Several of the seven state senators own residences well beyond the means of a typical tenant and three are landlords themselves, leasing property to renters.

The lawmakers sided with Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rennselaer), who has threatened to let rent protections for 2 million tenants expire on June 15 unless state leaders agree to a two-year phased elimination. They were part of a 33-to-27 GOP-led majority that blocked a Democratic maneuver aimed at renewing the laws.

A Daily News review of financial disclosure statements and property records shows that the senators' lifestyles contrast sharply with the average city rent-stabilized tenant, whose annual income is under $30,000.

Sen. John Marchi lives in a Staten Island hilltop home that's worth about $280,000 and commands views of upper New York Bay.

Sen. Guy Velella's home in the Indian Village neighborhood in the Bronx is worth about $300,000, according to area real estate brokers.

Sen. Dean Skelos lives in a Tudor-style house in Rockville Centre, L.I., located in an area where property values range from $400,000 to $600,000.

Sen. Michael Tully lives in the Nassau County North Shore area known for rolling estates made famous in "The Great Gatsby," the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A home near Tully's split-level in Port Washington recently sold for $495,000, records show.

Sen. Joseph Holland bought his New City home in Rockland County for $307,000 three years ago, records show.

Sen. Serphin Maltese lives in a one-family brick house in Elmhurst, Queens, and Sen. Nicholas Spano lives in a single-family house in Yonkers. Each home is worth about $200,000, brokers said.

Advocates lobbying for renewal of the state laws that limit rent hikes questioned whether the senators fully appreciate tenants' fears.

"It's very hard for many people who own their homes to understand just how scary it can be to a tenant that they might lose their home," said Billy Easton of the Tenants & Neighbors Coalition.

Velella, who said he supports renewal of the state rent laws, called that argument "utter nonsense." Other senators agreed.

Tully spokesman Andre Claridge said: "The senator is very well aware of tenant issues. He was born on the lower East Side."

Spano, who like Velella favors keeping the rent laws, said: "Can't I have a feeling for a person who has a developmental disability unless I suffer that same disability? Absolutely not."

"Part of the job of an effective legislator is to be able to understand the feelings and emotions of all of your constituents," he said.

While saying they support keeping the laws, Spano and Velella chose not to break ranks on this vote, which defeated a Democratic maneuver that would have forced the rent issue to a final vote before it was sent out of a Senate committee.

Several of the senators are set apart from tenants by more than just their private homes. Holland, Velella and Skelos also own property that they rent, disclosure records show.

Holland co-owns two Albany buildings that have seven apartments. The buildings are not subject to state rent laws.

Velella owns a second single-family home in the Bronx that he rents. And Skelos' 1995 financial disclosure statement shows he earned income by leasing property in Freeport, L.I.

"I haven't made any money in the four or five years that we've owned it," Holland said of the Albany buildings. "I don't think of myself as a landlord at all."

Holland said he favors maintaining rent protections for those who earn less than $100,000. His personal property holdings have not affected his stance on the rent battle, Holland said.

"I think most of the people in the New York State Senate, if not 100%, do what they think is right," he said.

Maltese spokeswoman Victoria Vattimo said the Queens senator "understands and he's working hard to protect the people who need to be protected."

Marchi and Skelos could not be reached, and Skelos' staff declined to comment.

Original Story Date: 041497
Original Story Section: City Central