Pol Rents And Raves on Laws
Bruno ready to kill control, stabilization

By KIMBERLY SCHAYE
and MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News Staff Writers

The state Legislature's most powerful Republican yesterday announced a chilling plan for more than 2 million city renters the "end of rent regulation as we know it."

Vowing to sweep aside decades of state laws limiting rent hikes, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) said he would refuse to renew the statutes when they expire on June 15, 1997.

"On June 16, the rent-control laws and the rent-stabilization laws in this city will no longer exist," Bruno told cheering landlords in a Manhattan breakfast speech. "We are going to liberate the city."

Firing the opening shot in a high-stakes political war, Bruno called for a two-year transition to rents regulated only by supply and demand. His plan would let landlords charge market rates to all but low-income elderly or disabled tenants, starting in June 1999.

Bruno's proposal drew immediate opposition from Mayor Giuliani, the Democrat-controlled Assembly and tenant groups. They pledged to mount fierce opposition as state lawmakers debate the plan next year.

The Assembly is likely to force a compromise by blocking other Senate plans or even holding up next year's state budget until Bruno agrees to changes. Acknowledging likely political obstacles, Bruno conceded he might have to settle for less drastic change.

Albany sources said the Senate might compromise on a plan that would allow landlords to charge market rates as apartments become vacant but would leave other rent protections intact.

Still, no legislation reauthorizing rent regulations can pass the Senate and become law without support from Bruno, whose plan yesterday drew tentative signs of support from Gov. Pataki.

"I believe we must move toward a market system while continuing protections for senior citizens, the disabled and those on fixed incomes," said Pataki who, like Bruno, is a Republican from outside the city. "The rent-control system needs a strong dose of common sense, and I hope we can reach a consensus on reforms."

The state's rent regulations apply mainly to 1.1 million apartments in New York City. The laws date back to World War II and limit increases landlords can charge for lease renewals.

As a result, monthly rents for many apartments are sometimes hundreds of dollars lower than the rates charged for similar units not covered by the state laws.

For years, landlords and tenants have battled in Albany when the regulations came up for renewal. Tenants, backed by allies in the Assembly, argue that they can't afford big rent hikes.

Lorenza Abrams, who pays $465 a month for a two-bedroom, rent-stabilized unit in Flushing, Queens, said similar apartments go for more than $1,000. "I would never be able to afford that," she said.

But landlords, with backing from the GOP-controlled Senate, say they need higher rents to cover costs.

Mark Engel, who manages 275 buildings in the Bronx and Manhattan, said artificially low rents make it tough for owners to pay bills.

Bruno's announcement escalated the long-running political struggle to new heights.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) warned that thousands of middle-class tenants would be "forced out of the city" under Bruno's plan.

Giuliani, whose 1997 reelection bid would be affected, called on Albany leaders to keep the status quo.

"I certainly would not support some kind of massive change in rent regulation or rent control," Giuliani said.

Bruno's announcement turned the political spotlight on the city's five GOP state senators. Although they generally back Bruno on major issues, they will face heat from tenants to fight the change.

Sen. John Marchi (R-S.I.) said he agreed that New York's rent system needs an overhaul that protects vulnerable tenants.

Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Queens) went further, citing rent regulation as a "major factor in the decline of stable housing in New York City."

Republican Sens. Roy Goodman of Manhattan and Frank Padavan of Queens vowed to fight the proposal.

Sen. Guy Velella (R-Bronx) did not return repeated calls seeking comment.

Original Story Date: 12/06/96
Original Story Section: News Fix