Gov to Unveil Rent Proposals

By JON R. SORENSEN and MICHAEL FINNEGAN 05/09/97 Daily News Staff Writers

Gov. Pataki will propose scrapping rent protections for higher-income households while imposing tough new penalties on landlords who harass tenants, officials said yesterday.

The proposals are in a package of sweeping rent law reforms that Pataki will unveil next week, officials said. The reforms include a plan to lift the limits on rent hikes once apartments become vacant.

Pataki said his reforms would keep rent protections for "the overwhelming majority of tenants" in New York City, but he would not provide specifics.

"We've made no decisions," he said.

The governor and aides were debating yesterday whether to propose wiping out limits on rent hikes for tenants with household incomes above $100,000 or above $150,000.

Currently, the annual income limit for most households in rent-regulated apartments is $250,000.

Four per cent of the households in the city's 1 million rent-stabilized apartments earn more than $100,000 a year, census figures show.

The threat of new fines or jail terms is aimed at deterring landlords from hounding tenants out of their apartments to free up the space for someone who would pay market rent.

Pataki's proposal represents a major advance in the war over laws that restrict rent hikes for more than 2 million tenants.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) has threatened to let the laws expire on June 15 unless lawmakers agree to phase them out within four years. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) wants to retain existing protections.

In a major break from Bruno, a fellow GOP ally, Pataki will not include any deadline for phasing out rent protections in his proposal, a source said. As a result, Bruno is expected to drop his demand for phasing out the laws by a fixed date, a top Albany official said.

The key feature of Pataki's proposal will be the plan to stop wealthy renters from taking advantage of protections they don't need, officials said.

"Someone who lives in North Carolina 10 months of the year should not be protected under the rent laws," Pataki said. In fact, state law already denies rent protections to tenants whose city apartments are not their primary residence.

Billy Easton, executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition, said decontrolling the apartments of high-income tenants would help landlords "eat away at the system one bite at a time." And abolishing the limits on rent hikes for vacant apartments would be "a green light for a landlord reign of terror on middle-income and working-class people," he said.

Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord group, said it was "odd" that Pataki was jumping into the fray just when it seemed Assembly Democrats might agree to some reforms.