Renters Still Feel Some Uneasiness/But, for now, the uncertainty is over

by Brett Johnson. Monte Young contributed to this story
Newsday, June 17, 1997
Natalie Karp and Murray Osborne are happy that with yesterday's rent-control deal in Albany they can continue to afford their two-bedroom rent-stabilized apartment in Great Neck. But there is still some uneasiness for the married couple, who said they are fearful that one day their $912-a-month rent will increase far beyond their fixed income.

"It's very frightening," said Karp, a 64-year-old retired school social worker. "With vacancy decontrol, if we wanted to move to a lower-floor apartment when one became available, the landlord could raise the rent and we could never move. We would be trapped as prisoners in our own home."

Karp added, "We won the immediate battle, but they are slowly chipping away at the stock of apartments available to people like us."

For months, tenant advocates and residents who live in rent-stabilized apartments in Nassau County have lived under a cloud of uncertainty as state lawmakers dickered over a plan to extend the rent-regulation system. Yesterday, eight minutes after the rent laws expired at midnight, lawmakers agreed on a six-year plan, with some modifications, which some residents said will let them sleep a little better.

While tenants might be pleased, some landlords were saying the laws often prevented them from charging enough in rent to meet their mortgage payments and the upkeep of their investment.

"I just believe landlords should have more say about their property and get a decent amount of rent to be able to maintain it properly," said Paul Palmieri, president of the Coalition of Landlords, Tenants and Merchants, which he said has about 300 members. "The laws protect tenants, too."

The tentative agreement would allow a landlord to raise the rent at least 20 percent - more than under previous rules - when someone moves out. A tenant would have to make less than $175,000 a year, compared to the previous $250,000 limit, for two straight years to qualify for a rent cap.

For those like Jeanne Kippel, housing commissioner for the Village of Great Neck Plaza, who have organized tenants and attended protests in Albany, the thought of not having laws to protect her rent-stabilized apartment caused her many a sleepless night.

"I tossed and turned all night," Kippel said. "I fell asleep for a brief moment only to dream that rent stabilization had gone down the drain. Then at six in the morning, I heard on the radio the agreement had been reached and I felt comfortable enough to sleep for two hours.

"People were terrified that with no law, they would be forced to leave Nassau County. As for state legislators, we are greatful cooler heads prevailed."

Carlos Mackey, president of the Village of Hempstead Tenant Council, said he was glad the laws are in place, but added, "In the minority community, we need the laws to work because landlords are driving our people out."

Julia Shields of Great Neck was asleep on a bus returning from a protest in Albany when she was awakened by a loud cheer from about two dozen others traveling with her.

"Everyone on the bus just started to cheer," said Shields, who has lived in a rent-stabilized apartment for 35 years. "We all had some mixed views, in that the landlords can increase rents when the place is vacant. But they didn't get vacancy decontrol and that's a real victory for the tenants."