Suburbs May Be Rent Key

by MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News, June 12, 1997
Rent-controlled residents in the suburbs could be a secret political weapon helping anxious city tenants in the rent battle, lawmakers say.

If state rent laws expire Sunday, about 4,500 seniors in Westchester and Nassau counties could face swift eviction notices or major rent hikes that could take effect within weeks.

They are covered by state rent control a program that applies to tenants who have lived in their apartments since before July 1971.

While tenants in rent-controlled apartments in the five boroughs still would have city protections if the state laws expired, the elderly suburban tenants in controlled units would be stripped of legal caps on rent hikes.

Ann Mastrogiorgio, 66, fears her landlord will double the $630 monthly rent she pays for the rent-controlled Mount Vernon apartment where she has lived since 1965. "I feel frightened, threatened and very angry that they would allow this to happen to us," said Mastrogiorgio, a grandmother who earns $30,000 a year as a court clerk.

Her landlord could not immediately be reached for comment.

Several lawmakers said the prospect of sudden rent hikes for elderly tenants in Republican areas could be political dynamite that would force Gov. Pataki and the GOP-controlled state Senate to renew all rent protections.

"Sadly, that crisis might precipitate our resolving this issue," said Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), who backs renewal of the rent laws.

John McArdle, spokesman for state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer), the top rent regulation foe, agreed that pressure from the suburban seniors could help force a settlement.

But McArdle said there are fewer suburban rent-controlled tenants than state housing officials say.

Frances Calamari, 58, fears that she and her retired 60-year-old cancer-stricken husband could face a major rent increase in the Mount Vernon apartment where they raised four children. She said politicians in Albany appear to be ignoring the impact of their rent fight on tenants like themselves.