Bruno Relents
On Rents

Pol accepts deal
to focus on vacancies

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Staff Writer

The state lawmaker who vowed to "end rent regulation as we know it" yesterday said he might let New Yorkers keep their apartment rents low for years to come.

Softening his threat to let rent laws for 2 million tenants expire on June 15, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said he could accept a deal lifting rent limits on apartments as they become vacant.

That would allow tenants to keep state protections against steep rent hikes until they move out or die.

The upstate Republican made the surprise concession in a radio interview with former Mayor Ed Koch.

Koch asked Bruno whether he would agree to a vacancy decontrol compromise and lowering the $250,000 income limit for most households in rent-regulated units.

"There's absolutely nothing wrong with that," said Bruno.

"Good, then we got a deal," said Koch.

However, Bruno later told Koch, "I am not locked in." And after the radio appearance, an aide said Bruno still wants a four-year elimination of rent laws.

Bruno also said it was unlikely that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) who is battling to renew rent laws would accept vacancy decontrol unless he had no other choice.

Silver spokeswoman Pat Lynch said the Assembly opposes vacancy decontrol because it "would contribute to the exodus of the middle class from the city."

With 8% or 9% of apartments in New York City changing hands each year, it could take more than a decade to phase out rent limits as units become vacant.

But ultimately, Bruno and New York landlords would reach their goal of a totally free-market rent system.

To achieve that aim, Bruno has threatened to let the laws lapse when they expire June 15. Landlords of 1.1 million rent-stabilized apartments could then raise rents to market rates as soon as leases expire.

Bruno's remarks represent his second concession in as many days.

The shifts were made amid pressure on Republican senators who represent thousands of tenants.

Bruno first demanded a two-year transition to market rents for all but the elderly and disabled as his price for dropping the June 15 expiration threat.

He later agreed to keep protections for the poor.

On Thursday, he said he would accept a four-year phase-out instead of two.

Bruno's seemingly softer stance seemed to please no one. Landlords said they should not have to wait until tenants move to charge market rents.

"There has to be a date certain when we're done with this," said Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a group of 2,000 landlords.

Billy Easton, executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition, said deregulating newly vacant apartments would signal "capitulation" to landlords. Building owners would harass and evict tenants so they could charge market rates, Easton said.

State lawmakers approved a vacancy decontrol system in 1971. But they enacted emergency new restrictions on rent hikes in 1974 after rents jumped an average of 52%.

Original Story Date: 041997
Original Story Section: City Central