No Quick Ax If Rent Laws Fall
If rules end, pros see little impact at first

By: MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News, May 25, 1997

Despite mounting tenant fear over the threatened June 15 end of state rent protections, experts say there will be little immediate impact if the laws expire.

But thousands of apartment dwellers could face major rent hikes or evictions as leases expire in the months after the deadline unless Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders resolve their deadlock.

"It's not like people are going to wake up the next morning and there's going to be a padlock on their door," said Andrew Scherer, co-author of "Residential Landlord-Tenant Law in New York."

"Nobody's at the cliff on June 16," agreed Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York. "As we get further into July and August, we're getting closer to that cliff."

About 110,000 tenants who have lived in their apartments since July 1971 or before don't have to worry. They will be covered by city rent protections no matter what happens in the bitter battle over state laws, experts said.

Tenants who could lose rent protections are those who live in 975,000 rent-stabilized city apartments and nearly 60,000 units in Westchester, Rockland and Nassau counties.

"The people in the most danger are the people whose leases expire after the laws expire, and the landlords commence proceedings to kick them out during whatever hiatus there is," said Scherer.

Unless the laws lapse, landlords must continue to offer lease renewals to tenants in rent-stabilized apartments. The offers must be issued from 120 to 150 days before leases run out. Tenants have 60 days to accept, and landlords must return the new leases within 30 days.

Failure to reach an agreement on new laws by June 15 could trigger a wave of court fights involving tenants who are in the midst of lease renewals. Those tenants will say they are covered by the old laws, and many landlords will argue they are not, experts said.

Even among building owners, there is disagreement over whether lease renewals offered before June 15 must be honored if the laws expire.

"I would argue that you have a right to withdraw your offer," said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a group of 25,000 landlords.

But Spinola said any landlord who made an offer before June 15 must honor it even if the laws lapse.

Apartment dwellers most at risk of facing major rent hikes are those with leases that expire after Oct. 13 -- 120 days after the June deadline. If the laws aren't replaced, landlords won't have to offer lease renewals to those tenants.

"Owners are not going to hesitate to get rid of tenants who pay rents that are far below market," said tenant lawyer Timothy Collins, former executive director of the city Rent Guidelines Board.

In a preview of what could happen, an upper West Side landlord who jumped the gun last month tried to impose a staggering 337% rent hike on one tenant. After the Daily News reported the incident, the landlord offered a new lease within the legal rent-hike limits.