Silver's New Mettle

By KIMBERLY SCHAYE
05/15/97 Daily News Albany Bureau

The top lawmaker heading the drive to renew endangered state rent laws yesterday vowed to block Gov. Pataki's proposal to abolish the protections as tenants vacate their apartments.

"I will not allow any bill which contains a vacancy-decontrol provision to be brought to the floor of this house for a vote," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). "It's a nonnegotiable item."

Silver hardened his position despite growing pressure from Pataki and other Republicans who demanded that he negotiate on the governor's compromise plan to avoid the threatened June 15 expiration of rent protections for 2 million tenants.

Silver's refusal even to discuss vacancy decontrol left state negotiators further apart than ever in a bitter war that has stalled all other business in Albany including talks on the 44-days-overdue state budget.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) also took a harder line yesterday as he pressed his fight to wipe out laws limiting the size of rent hikes. Bruno said he opposes current state laws that let relatives and domestic partners keep a rent-regulated apartment after a loved one moves or dies. Pataki proposed continuing so-called successor rights as part of his compromise plan.

"These tenants don't own these units, and they're not going to be able, through succession, to will them to others through the next several centuries," Bruno said.

Pataki stuck to his proposal despite the attacks by Silver and Bruno. "We think our proposal is fair and balanced," he said after the three leaders met yesterday.

Pataki had offered his proposal, which would phase out rent protections over a decade or more, as a "reasonable" compromise that would stop far short of Bruno's demand to scrap the laws within four years.

But Silver said vacancy decontrol would drive middle-income families out of the city.

A new study sponsored by the city Rent Guidelines Board projected that vacancy decontrol would push rents up 30% within two years on Manhattan's upper West Side, 24% in Harlem and Washington Heights and 23% in Elmhurst, Queens.

Several key members of the Democratic-controlled Assembly said they would stand with Silver.

Tenant leaders applauded his position and accused Pataki of extending the logjam by proposing a plan that would end rent protections that tenants have relied on for decades.

With Michael Finnegan