Weighing In: 175G is lease gov can do;
earn more and lose protection

May 12, 1997Daily News Staff Writer

Gov. Pataki weighed in on the explosive debate over New York City rents yesterday, calling for the elimination of rent-hike limits for households making more than $175,000.

Pataki, previewing reforms he is expected to announce today, said his proposal would save rent protection for 99% of city tenants who live in regulated apartments.

The proposal was announced as Cardinal O'Connor took the highly unusual step of addressing the issue during Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, urging state lawmakers not to let the endangered laws die on June 15.

Calling affordable housing a "human right," O'Connor said the laws, which restrict rent hikes and evictions for more than 2 million tenants, should be extended until a commission determines "the morally right thing to do."

"The current system of rent regulations must be intensively reviewed if we are to move more closely toward the ideal of justice for all," O'Connor said.

Pataki, who has tried to steer clear of the rent fight, offered only sketchy details.

His proposed $175,000 income limit for rent protections would be a drop from the current $250,000 income limit. The new limit would not apply to the elderly or disabled.

"My plan to save rent control will insure that every middle-class tenant has the right to remain in their apartment for the rest of their lives if they choose," Pataki said.

Pataki also proposed tougher penalties against "unscrupulous landlords who harass their tenants in an attempt to push them out of their apartments," but offered no specifics.

The harassment crackdown hinted at a proposal Pataki may unveil today: scrapping the limits on rent hikes when tenants move or die.

Critics say so-called vacancy decontrol encourages landlords to harass tenants to free up apartments for people who will pay higher free-market rents.

Pataki spokesman Michael McKeon refused to say whether he will propose vacancy decontrol.

Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer), who has threatened to let the rent laws lapse on June 15 unless lawmakers agree to phase them out, welcomed Pataki's proposal, but said "much more has to be done."

"We must have a gradual and reasonable transition away from rent regulations to an open, competitive housing market in New York City," he said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who supports continued rent protection, called Pataki's plan "simply unrealistic in today's economy" because even those who make $175,000 a year need protection.

Pataki's proposals drew attacks from both landlord and tenant groups.

Landlord advocate Dan Margulies of the Community Housing Improvement Program welcomed the cutbacks for the well-to-do, but said landlords were disappointed that Pataki did not set "a date certain" for ending rent controls.

Michael McKee of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition said Pataki was "trying to lop off the system one arm at a time."

"We're very unhappy," he said.

In his homily at St. Patrick's, O'Connor rejected arguments by landlords and their allies that renters who want to live in the city "have to pay accordingly."

"That's morality and economics in a vacuum," he said. "How long will it take to get to work if you live far from your job? How much will it cost? How much more time are you away from your children? What is to be traded off? Food, education, health care? These are human rights."