Bruno Floats A Compromise

Daily News Albany Bureau

ALBANY -- The lawmaker leading the fight to wipe out state rent laws yesterday unveiled a compromise plan that would lift rent protections as tenants move or die and restrict inheritance rights on rent-regulated units.

State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) said the outline represents his long-awaited formal plan for ending the war over rent laws threatened with expiration in 10 days.

Under the plan, apartments could be passed on only to immediate family members who have lived in the units. Current state law allows other relatives and unmarried partners to inherit rent-regulated apartments.

The plan also would strip rent protections from tenants whose household income tops $125,000 down from the $250,000 eligibility limit in current state law.

Bruno said the plan would impose tougher criminal penalties on landlords who harass tenants into moving and require tenants to place rents in escrow during disputes with landlords. It also would limit how long landlords may impose rent hikes for major capital improvements.

He estimated the package -- to be drafted in a formal bill next week -- would phase out state rent protections in 12 to 14 years. That represents a compromise from his initial demand for swift elimination of rent laws.

Bruno said he has enough votes to guarantee Senate approval of the plan by the June 15 expiration of current rent laws.

He called on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), who has vowed to block vacancy decontrol, to negotiate a compromise.

"We are trying to do something that is reasonable, but if one person just keeps their arms folded and doesn't respond, then what you're headed for is a major crisis in the city," said Bruno.

But the plan got an immediate thumbs down from Silver, tenant leaders and gay rights advocates. "I do not accept vacancy decontrol as a way to conclude this debate, plain and simple," Silver said.

It also prompted questions from Gov. Pataki, who last week proposed his own rent package. Pataki said he could not accept Bruno's plan to place new restrictions on who may legally keep a rent-regulated apartment when the main tenant dies. And he said the $125,000 income eligibility limit ù down from the $175,000 ceiling proposed by the governor -- is too low.