Rent Debate Airs in Freeport

by Brett Johnson
Newsday, June 13, 1997
With the future of state rent regulations up in the air in Albany, two attorneys on opposing sides debated yesterday how revamped regulations might affect nearly 14,000 Nassau County renters.

Timothy Collins, an attorney with the New York City Tenant and Neighbors Coalition, and Allan Hyman, a real estate attorney whose firm represents many builders, contractors and landlords on Long Island, debated at a Freeport restaurant before local residents in a WGBB radio simulcast event.

Collins supported the continuation of the current rent laws. He said the rent regulations help protect millions of New York City tenants, many of whom are lifetime renters.

"Rent regulation is there to deal with the shortages in many New York markets and limits the ability of landlords to collect excessive rents that are driven by these shortages," Collins said. "There's been a lot of disinformation about rent regulation driven by a multimillion-dollar campaign on the part of owners to convince the public that rent regulation is the root of almost every social evil."

Hyman argued that the vacancy decontrol plan offered by Gov. George Pataki would adequately cure a housing market replete with abandoned units, exorbitant rents, and lack of new construction by opening up rent prices to the free market.

Currently, the law allows for regulation to be determined in part by the amount of the rent payment, according to Hyman.

"Today there is a law that says that if you make $200,000 or more [in annual income] and you're paying $2,000 a month in rent, then you no longer qualify for rent-stabilized apartment," said Hyman. "However, if you're making $1 million and you live in an apartment where the rent is $1,800 then you can still live there."

Hyman said that vacancy decontrol would work to end that sort of arrangement. The plan would deregulate any rental unit where the household income is $175,000 or greater as well as deregulating units as they become vacant.

Though largely viewed as an issue for New York City tenants, there are several areas in Nassau affected by rent control laws. Rent-controlled and rent-stabilized apartments exist in Glen Cove, Village of Hempstead, North Hempstead, Freeport, Long Beach, Mineola, Valley Stream and other communities. There are no rent regulations in Suffolk.

Hyman added that ending the current system of rent regulation would have a minimal impact on renters in Nassau. He said that as regulation disappears, rents will go to market levels, which he said are close to current rates.

"We live in a free economy with free enterprise," said Hyman, who added that senior citizens and the disabled would be protected under vacancy decontrol.

But Collins said the plan would displace the working and middle-class renter.

"The obvious objective here is to increase rents," he said. "It will result in a transfer of wealth from largely working and middle-income households that make on average $22,000 a year to the pockets of landlords."

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