Pols Make Room or Rent Laws

by KIMBERLY SCHAYE, JON R. SORENSEN nd MICHAEL FINNEGAN
New York Daily News, June 20, 1997
State lawmakers last night ended the 1997 rent war by approving new laws that maintain rent protections for more than 2 million tenants in the city and suburbs.

The final package, hammered out in four days of negotiation, also features several pro-landlord additions to the "conceptual agreement" announced by Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders on Monday.

Before the final legislative approval at 10:35 p.m., Pataki called the measure "the most historic and sweeping reform of housing policy in this state in a long, long time." He is set to sign the six-year laws today.

The legislation will:

  • Maintain the legal system that protects tenants from sharp rent hikes blocking Pataki's call for scrapping rent restrictions as renters move out or die.

  • Strip rent protection from households with incomes of more than $175,000 a year, down from the previous $250,000 limit. The income test applies only to tenants in apartments renting for at least $2,000 a month.

  • Let landlords charge a 20% "bonus" rent hike on vacant apartments up from the current 16%. Owners also will get an extra $100 a month for units that previously rented for less than $300.

  • Require tenants to pay rent into escrow during disputes with landlords. But renters will have to deposit only future payments, not arrears as landlords had wanted. Those who fail to deposit rent will face eviction.

  • Allow tenants to pass rent-regulated apartments to domestic partners and close relatives, but only for one generation.

  • Block tenants from challenging rent overcharges more than four years old.

  • Supersede a city law that stopped landlords from using extra rent hikes awarded in exchange for apartment renovations as a way to boost rents above $2,000.

  • Repeal a state law that required developers to put up buildings with 20% more apartments when they demolish rental housing.

    Approval of the changes retroactive to Sunday night's expiration of the old laws ended months of turmoil in the city as tenants fought to block Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) and Pataki from eliminating rent protections.

    In the end, the tenant side championed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) beat back all but a few of the landlords' demands for change. The legislation leaves largely intact the protections New Yorkers have relied on since 1943.

    The final bill was shaped during four days in which landlord and tenant advocates pressured state officials to tilt the drafting in their favor.

    Approval of the final deal came after Sen. Roy Goodman (R-Manhattan) made a failed bid to kill a provision that could help a developer demolish the homes of five elderly upper East Side tenants.

    RFR Holding hired former State Housing Commissioner Donald Halperin last month for $10,000 to lobby the Pataki administration and legislative leaders for the legal change.

    The laws will bring RFR Holding "closer" to evicting rent-controlled tenants and demolishing cottages overlooking a courtyard garden on Third Ave. between 77th and 78th Sts. to build a 23-story tower, Halperin said.