He Fights Rent Regs That He Enjoyed

NY Daily News, May 18, 1997
A top landlord lobbyist pushing to end state limits on rent hikes enjoyed a "great deal" on a rent-stabilized Manhattan apartment even though he owned and used a house on Staten Island.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the pro-landlord Rent Stabilization Association, said he "hit the mother lode" in the early 1980s by snagging the two-bedroom apartment in Stuyvesant Town for $600 to $700 a month under the market rent at that time.

He kept the apartment for two to three years after he bought the Staten Island house for about $123,000 in 1985. Strasburg said he spent week nights in Manhattan and used the Staten Island home on weekends.

In his lobbying role, Strasburg recently criticized state lawmakers who enjoyed rent-regulated apartments and private homes. "I'd like to think that they are true believers, but I wonder if they are not stronger advocates because they themselves . . . don't pay fair market" rent, he said.

State Assemblyman Steven Sanders (D-Manhattan), whose district includes Stuyvesant Town, called Strasburg "hypocritical in the extreme" for attacking a housing arrangement he himself once enjoyed.

"The rhetoric of anti-rent-stabilization . . . rings hollow," Sanders said.

Strasburg, 45, called that criticism "a cheap shot," contending that most apartments in Manhattan were protected by the state rent laws.

"Who is not going to avail themselves of a system that's in place where nobody's ever going to change it?" said Strasburg. "It's not hypocritical to live in a rent-stabilized apartment when you don't have a choice."

Details of Strasburg's former apartment emerged as the lobbyist for the 25,000-member landlord group pushes to wipe out the laws that restrict rent hikes and evictions for more than 2 million tenants. The laws are set to expire on June 15.

Gov. Pataki and state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer) have backed a plan to wipe out the rent protections as tenants die or move out of their apartments.

Tenant groups, backed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), are pushing for renewal of the laws. They plan to bus more than 5,000 protesters to the state Capitol on Tuesday for a demonstration demanding extension of the laws.

Strasburg said he lived in rent-stabilized apartments in Stuyvesant Town from 1978 to 1987, first in a small unit, then in the two-bedroom apartment.

He said he shared the larger apartment and part of the rent cost with a roommate after he bought the Staten Island house. Strasburg said he reported the roommate's rent payments as income on tax returns. He said he never sublet the unit.

"I slept in that apartment for most of the week with a clear understanding that when it came around Friday, I went back to Staten Island," he said.

The lobbyist accused tenant advocates of leaking details of the housing arrangement because they are losing their fight to renew rent laws he called unjust.

"Maybe I should never have given up that apartment," Strasburg joked. "I could have had a summer house in the Hamptons, attacking myself in public."