Pataki & Silver Trade Blasts
Zero hour for rent regs

By JON R. SORENSEN and MICHAEL FINNEGAN
Daily News, June 15, 1997
Racing tonight's midnight expiration of state rent protections, Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders yesterday scrambled to avoid political backlash for the crisis that could erupt if they fail to strike a deal.

Pataki issued an executive order naming state Attorney General Dennis Vacco as a special prosecutor to handle rent gouging and landlord harassment that expiration could prompt.

The order also set up a 24-hour state hotline for tenant complaints and called on court administrators to assign more judges to housing courts for a potential surge of landlord-tenant battles.

"Let me make perfectly clear that any landlord who seeks to take advantage of their tenants will pay the consequences," Pataki said.

He used the actions to portray himself as acting on behalf of more than 2 million tenants whose rent protections are at risk. The Republican governor also tried to pin blame for the possible lapse of the laws on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).

"Mr. Silver must act responsibly and back away from his plans to kill rent protections for millions of New Yorkers on Sunday," he said.

Pataki accused Silver of using tenants as "political pawns" by refusing to compromise on the Democrats' demand for renewal of the laws.

Silver, an Orthodox Jew, could not respond yesterday while observing the Sabbath. But his spokeswoman Pat Lynch fired back at Pataki.

"If he were interested in protecting tenants, then he would extend the rent laws as they are currently written," said Lynch, who said Pataki's executive order wasn't "worth the paper it's printed on."

The Assembly previously passed a bill to make the rent laws permanent. But Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno (R-Rensselaer), who has led the drive for reforms demanded by landlords, has insisted on scaling back the laws that limit rent hikes.

Pataki and Bruno have called for scrapping state rent protections as tenants move out of their apartments or die. Landlords who have funded an ad campaign promoting the vacancy decontrol plan.

Silver and tenant leaders, who have mounted their own media blitz, say vacancy decontrol would make it impossible for middle-class renters to afford city apartments.

Prosecutors in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens also have warned that landlords would harass tenants into moving in order to empty apartments and collect higher, market-rate rents. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes yesterday set up an emergency rent unit to respond to tenant complaints.

The high-stakes war of nerves leaves just hours to negotiate a deal when the leaders resume discussions this morning. Unless there's an agreement, New Yorkers would lose state rent protection for the first time since World War II.

Tenant protesters yesterday rallied outside the Queens home of GOP State Sen. Serphin Maltese, urging him to drop his support for scaling back the laws. "We don't want to live for free; we just want an affordable rent," said Lorenza Abrams, who lives in a $500-a-month rent-stabilized apartment in Flushing.

Tenants also planned a candlelight rally outside Pataki's Manhattan offices tonight.

Mayor Giuliani yesterday started airing radio ads aimed at supporting the tenants and avoiding election-year political fallout if the laws expire. The ads, which will cost $20,000 through tomorrow, urge Albany officials to "preserve rent stabilization now!"

The mayor also opened city hotlines to provide tenants with information, legal help and police assistance in case of landlord harassment. Operators said their were logging about 100 calls an hour.