Gov warns landlords not to harass tenants

New York Daily News, June 14, 1997
More than 2 million tenants are down to their final hours of state rent protection after meetings by Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders yesterday failed to break a bitter deadlock.

With no sign of a compromise in sight, Pataki said he would issue an executive order today in a bid to stop landlords from harassing tenants if the laws expire.

The order will warn owners they "will be punished to the full extent of the law" for harassment, Pataki said.

A top administration source said Pataki also may back an extension of rent protections for several thousand tenants outside the city who are covered by state rent control.

But aides to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) said they did not expect agreement on such a reprieve. And Bruno flatly rejected rent law extensions proposed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

The only tentative sign of progress was that Pataki, Bruno and Silver toned down political attacks as they held three closed-door sessions on potential compromises aimed at avoiding tomorrow's midnight expiration.

"There's healthy exchanges of information and attitudes, and just sort of exploring, but we've got some basic differences," Bruno said. "There's a serious attempt at avoiding what appears to be looming . . . [but] we're going to surely be talking through Sunday."

Expiration of the laws would mean at least a temporary end of tenant protections against large rent hikes. But few apartment dwellers are expected to face immediate consequences, state officials and housing experts said. Major landlord groups vowed their members would not take advantage of tenants.

The leaders remain stuck on Pataki and Bruno's call for lifting state protections against large rent hikes as tenants move, die or are evicted. Silver (D-Manhattan) has vowed not to accept any form of vacancy decontrol.

Several sources said the leaders and their staffs have focused on intermediate steps that would increase landlord profits without eliminating the protection system that tenants have relied on for more than half a century. Such a compromise would allow all sides to declare victory.

Despite Silver's no-compromise pledge on vacancy decontrol, Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) yesterday said: "There are definitely ways to compromise . . . [on] a hybrid of vacancy decontrol. That's possible."

Sources said one plan offered by Pataki would allow developer landlords to deregulate one rental apartment for every new unit of "affordable housing" they build.

The state offers grants and loans to developers who build housing for tenants with low to moderate incomes. Silver has proposed increasing the subsidies as a potential compromise to avoid full rent deregulation.

Another possible compromise would authorize a one-time doubling of the 9% "bonus" increase landlords are allowed to charge a new tenant when a rent-stabilized apartment becomes vacant.

The leaders refused to discuss specifics as they broke for the night and Silver left Albany to observe the Jewish Sabbath.

Although aides to the three leaders are scheduled to talk today, Silver and other members of Assembly and Senate are not scheuled to return to Albany until tomorrow.