Thursday, May 8, 1997 Gov Sez He'll Spare Renters in 'Need'

By JON SORENSEN and MICHAEL FINNEGAN Daily News Staff Writers

Ending months of questions about his stance on endangered state rent laws, Gov. Pataki yesterday said he will propose rent protections for every tenant who needs them but didn't specify what he means by "need.".

The announcement signaled the first potential movement in the war over laws that restrict rent hikes for 2 million city tenants statutes threatened with elimination on June 15.

"Rent control is critically important to the people of New York City," Pataki said. "Rent control must be preserved for all New Yorkers who need its protection, and it will be."

The governor said he would release his proposal within a week, but neither he nor aides would provide details yesterday.

Pataki issued the statement after his counsel Michael Finnegan met for two hours with leaders of the state's two largest tenant groups. It was the first time a top Pataki aide has met with tenant leaders.

Both tenant leaders and landlords signaled cautious optimism over Pataki's long-awaited entry into the rent battle.

But the governor's statement highlighted a growing split between Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno his top legislative ally and the official who has threatened to let state rent protections expire.

Pataki criticized the fellow Republican and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) for linking negotiations on rent laws that affect the city to his own plan for property tax cuts which mainly benefit upstate and the suburbs.

Linking the two issues "divides New Yorkers by regions, and I oppose that," Pataki said. "We must solve the rent control logjam by finding approaches that unite us, not engage in rhetoric that divides us."

The comment drew a strained response from Bruno's office. "We have our position he has his," said Bruno spokesman John McArdle.

By promising to issue his own plan on rent laws, Pataki apparently is trying to avoid political damage from the tenant upheaval that would follow expiration of the protections.

The statement also represents an attempt to save his plan for sweeping property tax cuts a key to his 1998 reelection strategy.

Pataki has previously endorsed a system that would let landlords raise rents to market rates when tenants move out or die. He has also supported calls for lowering the $250,000 income cap for most rent-regulated tenants.

Last night, the city Rent Guidelines Board proposed limiting rent hikes to 2% for one-year lease renewals and 4% for two-year terms for rent-stabilized apartments. The board will hold public hearings on the proposal before taking a final vote on June 23.

But the action would be only symbolic unless state lawmakers renew the rent laws.

Original Story Date: 050897
Original Story Section: City Central