Rent Bill Comes Due

Ever since state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno threatened to end rent control, he has been the focus of volcanic debate. But Bruno lately has moderated his stance considerably. Now, the question is, where is Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver? Answer: Right where he started.

Meaning he hasn't budged an inch from his no-change-no-matter-what position.

Unless Silver starts giving a little, as Bruno has done, millions of New Yorkers will go over the cliff June 15, when the rent law expires. And the blame will fall squarely on Silver.

By having the good sense to be flexible, Bruno has allowed his position to evolve and showed he's ready to deal. He is calling for decontrolling luxury units and all other apartments as they become vacant. That's a common-sense approach to moving the city's 1.1 million regulated apartments into the free market.

In a perfect world, there would be no rent regulation. Tenants could afford their rents, and landlords could make a reasonable profit. But this is New York. The task is how to achieve these goals while minimizing the disruption to people's lives.

However flawed and panic-inducing Bruno's initial stance was, he has shed light on a system that truly must be changed. Fifty years after the wartime emergency that begat it, rent regulation has no future.

The outcome of Silver's refusal to negotiate would be chaos. That's the wrong way to achieve reform though any tenant who has lived in the same apartment since 1971 would continue to be protected under the city's rent laws. Also unaffected would be tenants in apartments for which the owner received a city tax break in exchange for being regulated.

Expanding the current luxury decontrol, which applies to tenants making more than $250,000, is part of a painless transition. There's no reason the income threshold can't be lowered.

The other part of a sane solution is vacancy decontrol, which would shift 8% or 9% of the rental units to market rents every year. That would protect tenants, while giving owners a market rent on new leases.

When he started this debate in December, Bruno said that any end to regulation would have to be accompanied by new housing for moderate-income people. To show he's serious, he must develop a viable plan.

When he does, he will have offered a full vision of the future. Will Sheldon Silver still be stuck in the past?

Original Story Date: 042097
Original Story Section: Opinion