Bruno Opens Door To Rent Decontrol

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Albany Bureau

The powerful lawmaker battling to scrap rent protections for 2 million tenants yesterday eased his stance slightly, announcing he could accept a transition to free-market rents in four years instead of two.

But State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno insisted he would not budge on his pledge to end the rent regulations or on his threat to let the laws expire June 15 if state leaders don't agree to gradual elimination.

"If four years is more responsible than two, then that's where we can be," Bruno said after a speech to the New York Building Congress. "But we've got to create a situation where rent controls as we know them . . . cease."

Bruno (R-Rensselaer) also opened a new front in the rent war, questioning the right of family members to inherit rent-regulated apartments when the leaseholder dies.

"Common sense tells me that if I don't own something, then I shouldn't have the right to will it to someone else," Bruno said. "I can only will to someone else something that I own. I can't will something that you own."

State regulations now grant succession rights to a family member or companion who has lived with an apartment leaseholder for at least two years. But if Bruno makes good on his threat, those regulations would expire June 15 along with laws that limit how much landlords can raise rents.

If state leaders fail to compromise and the laws lapse, landlords could raise rents to market levels as soon as tenants' leases expire. They also could refuse to renew leases, forcing tenants to move.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) is fighting to make the current rent laws permanent or at least preserve the status quo. Gov. Pataki has called for an "orderly transition" to free-market rents but has avoided outlining a specific plan.

Bruno's announcement that he would accept a four-year elimination of the rent laws was brushed off by tenant advocates and left landlord allies disappointed.

"I prefer two," said Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a group of 2,000 landlords. "The sooner the better."

Silver dismissed Bruno's change in stance and suggested that the Senate leader might not be able to muster the 31 votes needed to authorize a gradual elimination of the rent laws.

"I am not clear on exactly who, other than Sen. Bruno, supports that position," Silver said.

Tenant advocates blasted Bruno's call for barring relatives from inheriting rent-regulated apartments from loved ones.

"Many of these people have gone through a really painful, debilitating period caring for someone with a terminal illness," tenant lawyer Timothy Collins said. "What Bruno is suggesting is that after the funeral, these people should go home and pack their bags, because the landlord can make a fortune on their empty apartment."

Original Story Date: 041897
Original Story Section: Beyond the City