May 1, 1997 Pataki's Pushing Rent Caps

By MICHAEL FINNEGAN Daily News Staff Writer

Gov. Pataki said yesterday the state should maintain limits on rent hikes for middle-income tenants.

Pataki, taking his biggest step into the war over the threatened June 15 elimination of state rent laws, said the protections should be continued for households earning up to $50,000 a year.

"I would like to see us protect the overwhelming majority of tenants," Pataki said.

More than 567,000 of the 1 million city households living in rent-stabilized apartments earn less than $50,000 a year, according census figures.

Pataki's statement aligned him with Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, a fellow Republican who staked out a similar position this week. But it distanced the governor from GOP state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who has threatened to let the regulations expire unless lawmakers agree to phase them out within four years.

Pataki said letting the laws lapse "would be horrible and inappropriate and not something we should allow to happen."

Nonetheless, he warned that it would be "virtually impossible" to preserve the laws because Bruno has vowed to end New York's rent protection system and the Democrat-controlled Assembly has refused to consider anything short of full renewal.

"Both extremes are going to have to give a little bit if we're going to reach an agreement that protects the overwhelming majority of tenants in New York City and across other parts of this state," Pataki said.

The governor's latest statements hinted at a compromise that might enable landlords to hike rents to market rates when tenants move out or die. In the past, Pataki has endorsed that procedure, known as vacancy decontrol. But he declined to discuss specifics of a potential compromise yesterday.

The comments by Pataki, who is seeking reelection next year, annoyed landlords but pleased tenants.

"It's clearly a move in the wrong direction," said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a group of 25,000 landlords.

Tenant advocate Jenny Laurie, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, said, "It's great that the governor and D'Amato are clearly coming closer and closer to the tenants' position on this issue.

"Until they openly oppose vacancy decontrol," Laurie added, "they're still supporting the dismantling of the rent regulations."

Mayor Giuliani also voiced concern about the possibility of a compromise on vacancy decontrol a move he warned could drive the middle class out of the city as rents rise.

"Over a five to 10-year period, this could become a very different city," Giuliani said. "It could become a city of more richer people and more poorer people, and not a strong middle, which is necessary to a stable city."

Original Story Date: 050197
Original Story Section: Beyond the City