Rent Reg Foe Is Fat Cat

Daily News Albany Bureau

ALBANY The man who wants to cancel state rent protections for more than 2 million city renters is a millionaire owner of an upstate home with acres of scenic farmland.

The lifestyle of state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) couldn't be more different from that of thousands of New Yorkers who live in rent-regulated apartments.

Bruno lives in a five-bedroom hilltop house on 48 acres. The estate has a swimming pool and a barn for Bruno's Thoroughbred horses.

The lawmaker has never rented an apartment, nor has he ever set foot in a city landlord-tenant court.

"It's alarming that the fate of tenants in this state lies partly in the hands of a person who has no idea how real people live, and if he does have an idea of how real people live, he doesn't care," said Jay Small, head of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

Bruno, who made his fortune by founding and selling a telecommunications firm, makes no apologies for his wealth. He said his lifestyle has no bearing on his understanding of tenant needs.

"I don't believe it's germane to the discussion at all," the 67-year-old lawmaker said on Friday. "If legislators couldn't legislate on things unless it affected them personally, you wouldn't have government."

Bruno's plan would end rent-control and rent-stabilization laws for 1.1 million city apartments next June and set market rents for nearly all the units by June 1999.

The plan, he said, is an outgrowth of an ideological fight against government "overregulation" during his 20 years of representing a largely rural area near Albany.

Bruno pushed decontrol bills several years before his 1994 election as majority leader, including one that ended rent regulation of some expensive units three years ago.

Bruno said he had talked to both landlords and tenants "over the past 10 years," as well as examined studies of the city's rental market.

"Seventy five per cent of the benefit [of rent regulations] goes to 25% of the people." And most of those people could well afford market rents, said Bruno.

Some are "wealthy people who live in two homes," he added, referring indirectly to celebrities like actress Mia Farrow and singer Carly Simon who enjoyed rent-regulated units.

While landlords contributed more than $700,000 to state GOP causes this year, Bruno said the money did not influence his mission.

"That's just plain stupid," he said, arguing that tenant groups contribute to Assembly Democrats fighting decontrol.

Bruno also said a 1993 Harvard University study showed that deregulation doesn't equal higher rents. "Landlords aren't stupid. They aren't going to raise rents to the point where people will move out," he said.

If he didn't believe that tenants would be better off without rent regulations, he wouldn't have proposed the overhaul, Bruno said.

"I'm not trying to hurt anybody. I'm trying to help people," he said.

That hardly convinced Billy Easton of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition. "He is doing this to help people. He's doing this to help increase the profits of wealthy landlords," Easton said.

Original Story Date: 12/08/96
Original Story Section: News Fix