Bruno Bends Decontrol Deadline

NY Daily News, May 17, 1997
State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno yesterday for the first time dropped his demand for setting a fixed date to end rent protections for some 2 million tenants.

The upstate Republican said he would accept Gov. Pataki's call for eliminating the protections gradually as tenants move out or die a process expected to take more than a decade.

"I believe that vacancy decontrol, left unimpeded, provides an acceptable way to transition out of rent regulations to an open housing market," Bruno said.

The new bottom line represents a softening in Bruno's threats to let the rent protections expire June 15 unless state leaders agree to eliminate them within several years.

Federal census figures show that 78,000 rent-regulated apartments change hands each year. At that rate, it would take about 14 years to phase out protections on the 1.1 million rent-regulated units in the city and suburbs.

Bruno's position aligns him with Pataki, who this week argued against an "arbitrary cut-off date."

But it is unlikely to end the rent war that has stalled all other state business, including talks on the 47-days-overdue state budget.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has vowed to block any vote on vacancy decontrol, a stance he called nonnegotiable.

Silver's refusal to budge guarantees that the laws protecting tenants from large rent hikes will expire in a month, Bruno warned.

"He and his Democrats in the city will have full responsibility, because we are not passing a bill that does not have full vacancy decontrol in it," Bruno said.

Silver argued that Bruno's new position is no compromise because it would scrap protections tenants have relied on for a half century.

"What we have seen from the Republicans is not a sensible middle ground, it is a plan that will cause eviction of middle-class families," said Silver spokeswoman Patricia Lynch.

Vacancy decontrol would trigger a 30% jump in rents on Manhattan's upper West Side within two years, according to a new study by the city Rent Guidelines Board.

Decontrol also would spur hikes of 24% in Harlem and Washington Heights, and 23% in Elmhurst, Queens, the study showed.

Landlord and tenant advocates joined in attacking Bruno's new position.

Unless there is a fixed date for abolishing rent laws, "we are looking at another generation of controls and we won't get the benefits that we should get," said Dan Margulies of of the Community Housing Improvement Program.

Michael McKee of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors Coalition accused Bruno of "fronting" for Pataki and Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, the state's most influential Republican.