D'Amato Backs A Rent Plan

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Staff Writer

New York's most powerful Republican yesterday said talk about vacancy decontrol as a potential compromise to end the war over endangered state rent laws was "a tremendous step forward."

Sen. Alfonse D'Amato said allowing landlords to charge market rents after tenants die or move out is "a much more moderate position" than outright elimination of most state restrictions on rent hikes.

"It's moving in the right direction as opposed to simply charge what you can," he said. "That would be horrible. . . . That is unacceptable. A more moderate, a much more moderate position, is to move in the area of some kind of vacancy decontrol."

But D'Amato warned that vacancy decontrol should not be approved without new tenant protections. "You've got to provide sufficient protections that landlords can't harass people and force them out," he said.

The remarks came three days after state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno a D'Amato ally who has threatened to let the rent laws expire on June 15 suggested he might accept vacancy decontrol as a compromise. Bruno (R-Rensselaer) later said he backed the idea but still wants to scrap the rent laws over two or four years.

Tenants in more than 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the city and suburbs would be affected by any change in the laws. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who is leading the fight to renew the laws, opposes vacancy decontrol.

Asked about D'Amato's remarks, Bruno spokesman John McArdle said: "His bottom line continues to be, he's flexible. He's willing to be reasonable."

D'Amato has no legal role in the rent debate. But as the GOP powerhouse most responsible for putting both Bruno and Gov. Pataki into office, he can wield enormous influence over both men.

Pataki has already voiced support for vacancy decontrol. His transition team said that authorizing landlords to charge market rents as units become vacant was the best way to "dismantle" state rent regulations.

Landlords, however, say vacancy decontrol is too slow, because it could allow some tenants to keep their apartments for decades. They argue that they should be able to charge market rents as soon as a lease expires.

Tenant advocate Michael McKee called vacancy decontrol a "totally and completely unacceptable" method for scrapping "the entire system."

Original Story Date: 042297
Original Story Section: City Central