FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 12, 1997
Nine-Point Proposal Would Protect 99 percent of New York Tenants
Governor George E. Pataki today proposed a nine-point plan that preserves rent control and rent regulation protections for 99 percent of all tenants that now have them, keeps those protections in place for as long as a tenant or family member lives in a rent regulated apartment and strengthens tenant rights by cracking down on unscrupulous landlords.
"My plan would preserve rent law protections for every senior citizen and every disabled person regardless of income and for 99 percent of all tenants in rent regulated apartments for the rest of their lives," Governor Pataki said.
"Every low and middle-income New Yorker who is working to build a better life would continue to receive the protections from rent control and rent regulations that they need and deserve," the Governor said. "Only the top 1 percent of tenants in rent regulated apartments, those who can afford to pay market rates because they have household incomes exceeding $175,000 annually, would be asked to do so.
"My proposal will strengthen rent control protections by ensuring that land lords who try to evict tenants by harassing them face stiff civil and criminal penalties -- including up to seven years in State prison for the worst offenders," Governor Pataki said. "We must take a strong stand against dishonest landlords so no tenant lives in fear of losing their apartment or is the victim of rent gouging.
"Millions of New Yorkers have come to rely on our rent laws, and 99 percent of all tenants could still count on the rent laws if my proposal is adopted by the State Legislature," Governor Pataki said. "Rent control must be protected and, under my plan, it will be protected. That's the right decision for New York City and the right decision for all of New York State."
Governor Pataki's nine-point plan would ensure that all tenants in rent regulated apartments who earn less than $175,000 continue to receive the full protections of rent laws. Only individuals in households with an income exceeding $175,000 annually -- the top 1 percent -- would be required to pay market rates, regardless of what they now pay in rent.
However, the Governor's plan would ensure that every senior citizen and every tenant with a disability would keep their full protections under the rent laws regardless of their income. The Governor's plan would also maintain the broad rights of succession that family members of tenants presently enjoy.
"We must protect working and middle-class families by ensuring they continue to have the protections of the rent laws," the Governor said. "My plan will save those protections."
Governor Pataki said his proposal does not set an arbitrary date for completing a phase out of rent regulations, but rather would ensure that all tenants and family members would be able to live in rent regulated apartments until they voluntarily move out or die.
"We must ensure that every tenant who needs rent law protections has those protections for as long as they live," Governor Pataki said. "This proposal will ensure a smooth transition over the course of the next few decades to a market system."
The Governor's plan would ensure that current tenants and their families will continue to enjoy the protections of rent regulation until they voluntarily leave the apartment. An apartment would be transitioned into a market system only after the tenant and any success or family members have died or moved voluntarily. This approach protects current and future generations while facilitating an orderly transition to a market system.
Governor Pataki's plan includes a three-pronged approached to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords who attempt to push tenants out of their apartments or go uge them for excessive rent.
The Governor's plan would double the maximum civil penalty landlords now face for harassing tenants, increasing the top penalty to $10,000 per violation. The Governor's plan also would ensure that an apartment vacated as the result of harassment would not be subject to a transition to a market system.
In addition, owners who harass tenants would for the first time ever be subject to criminal prosecution under specific provisions of the State Penal Law -- and face long jail and prison sentences. This proposal clears up the maze of enforcement regulations that has hampered efforts to crackdown on dishonest landlords and protect tenants.
"This proposal hits dishonest landlords who ignore the law right where they will feel it: In their wallets," the Governor said. "My tough new criminal penalties will also send a clear message to greedy landlords: Harass your tenants and you will pay a price that far excee ds the few extra dollars you may collect from a rent increase."
Currently, the maximum penalty under Housing Law is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum of one year in jail. The Governor's proposal makes that the minimum term a dishonest landlord would face. Under the new criminal penalties:
An owner who harasses, intimidates or threatens a rent-regulated tenant would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor, and face up to one year in jail if convicted;
If the harassment interferes with the delivery of any service that impacts upon the health and safety of a building resident -- such as cutting off heat or water -- the owner would be guilty of a Class E felony, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in State prison; and
If the harassment involves the threat of violence, the crime would be eleva ted to a Class E felony, while in cases of violence or if the owner is a repeat offender who is convicted of a second offense within 10 years of the first conviction, the crime would be elevated to a Class D felony -- with a maximum penalty of seven years in State prison.
"The right to live in peace in your own home is fundamental to the American way of life," Governor Pataki said. "No one should suffer the indignity of being illegally forced out of their home. My plan will make those guilty of these grievous crimes suffer mightily."
The Governor's crackdown on dishonest landlords also includes stronger enfo rcement and penalties for owners who engage in rent gouging by authorizing the Attorney General to prosecute these crimes. Civil penalties against rent gouging will also be strengthened under this proposal.
"Unscrupulous owners who attempt to extort additional rent from tenants over and above the legal limits must face swift and severe criminal and civil sanctions," the Governor said. "By empowering the Attorney General to work with local district attorneys, we will bring the full weight of the law down on rent-gouging landlords."
The Governor's plan includes a provision to protect tenants from having to pay large sums of back rent in the event that are unsuccessful in Housing Court proceeding. The proposal would require that rent payments be deposited in an escrow account with the Housing Court after a postponement of a proceeding to collect rent, except where the adjournments were requested by the owner or where the tenant alleges an eviction.
This provision would allow tenants to make back rent payments if required by a Housing Court judge without having to make a huge lump sum payments, while ensuring that honest property owners receive the back rent a judge rules they are entitled to receive. If the tenant prevails, the court returns the escrow payments to the tenant.
"This proposal will allow us to save rent regulation protections for every tenants who needs it for the rest of their lives and make needed improvements in tenant rights as we move toward a market system over the next few decades," the Governor said. "We must save the rent law protections. This plan will do it."
PRESERVING RENT REGULATION IN NEW YORK STATE
The following proposal is offered to continue the protections of rent regul ation for senior citizens, the disabled, and the hard-working low and middle income families in New York State who occupy rent regulated apartments. At the same time, this proposal begins the gradual and necessary transition towards a market-based system. Key features of the proposal would:
PROTECTING WORKING FAMILIES: Maintain rent regulation for all apartments occupied by tenants earning up to $175,000 annually.
Tenants earning up to $175,000 annually who reside in rent regulated apartm ents would continue to receive the protections of the rent laws. As a result, 99 perc ent of hard-working New Yorkers and their families will retain their rent-regulated apartment for as long as they remain in occupancy.
PROTECTING THE ELDERLY AND DISABLED: Maintain rent regulation for all apartments occupied by senior citizens and by persons with disabilities, re gardless of income.
Senior citizens and the disabled must be protected, regardless of income or wealth. Accordingly, no apartment occupied by a senior citizen or a person with disabilities will be deregulated under this proposal.
PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF FAMILIES: Continue unchanged the broad rights of succession that family members of tenants presently enjoy.
Under present law, family members of a rent regulated tenant have the right to occupy the apartment when the tenant dies or permanently leaves the apartment. In ord er to continue to give family members the protections they need and deserve, the current p olicies governing succession rights will continue unchanged.
CRACKDOWN ON DISHONEST LANDLORDS, PART I: Strengthen civil penalties for building owners found to have harassed tenants.
New York State will not tolerate building owners who engage in the harassme nt of tenants. An owner who harasses a tenant to obtain vacancy of an apartment would be subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation under this proposal. Further, an apartment vacated as the result of harassment would remain subject to rent regulation .
CRACKDOWN ON DISHONEST LANDLORDS, PART II: For the first time, owners who harass tenants would be subject to criminal prosecution under specific provisions of the Penal Law.
An owner who harasses, intimidates or threatens a rent-regulated tenant would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. If the harassment interferes with the delivery of any service that impacts the health and safety of a building resident -- such as cutting off heat or water -- the owner would be guilty of a Class E felony. If the harassment involves the threat of violence, the crime would be elevated to a Class E felony; in cases of violence or if the owner is a repeat offender, the crime would be elevated to a Class D felony.
CRACKDOWN ON DISHONEST LANDLORDS, PART III: Strengthen enforcement and penalties for owners who engage in rent gouging
Unscrupulous owners who attempt to extort additional rent from tenants over and above the legal limits will face swift and severe criminal and civil sanctions. In addition to working with District Attorneys throughout the State to strengthen enforcement of the Penal Law prohibitions against rent gouging, the Attorney General will, for the first time, be authorized to prosecute these crimes. Civil penalties against rent gouging will also be strengthened under this proposal.
NO TIME LIMIT ON TRANSITION: No statutory mechanism to phase-out rent regulation by a specific date.
This proposal would allow for the phasing out of rent regulation over time according to the provisions of the previous point. It does not set a specific date or time frame for the end of rent regulation.
RESPONSIBLE LONG-TERM TRANSITION: Protect current and future generations of rent regulated tenants by maintaining regulation throughout their occupa ncy.
Current tenants and their families, under current laws of succession, will continue to enjoy the protections of rent regulation until they voluntarily leave the apartme nt. Only after the tenant and any successor family members have died or moved of their own choice will the apartment become subject to deregulation. This approach protects current and future generations while facilitating an orderly transition to a market system.
FAIR HEARING ESCROW ACCOUNT: Require rent payments to be deposited in an escrow account with the Housing Court after a postponement of a proceeding to collect rent.
Under present law, tenants generally do not pay rent during the course of a landlord-tenant proceeding in Housing Court. In cases where the owner ultimately prevails after months, and even years, of litigation, it is often difficult for the tenant to pay and for the owner to collect the back rent. This proposal requires tenants to deposit their rent payment s in an escrow account with the Housing Court after an adjournment of a landlord-tenant proceeding, except where the adjournment is requested by the landlord or the tenant alleges an eviction.