Tenants Burn Up City's Hotlines

by Dan Janison
Newsday, June 16, 1997
More than 3,100 calls streamed into city hotlines during the weekend, many from tenants needing assurance that the expected midnight expiration of rent laws wouldn't result in their imminent eviction, officials said yesterday.

``Essentially, it's people who have been concerned about what happens in the morning,'' said Jerry McCarty, assistant director at the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management, standing at a police headquarters phone bank.

``Am I going to be thrown out of my apartment?'' was the typical question, he said, with the standard reply, ``No, don't panic ... Basically, we're hearing anxiety and fear.''

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who toured the hotline office yesterday, said, ``The leaders in Albany should feel a tremendous amount of pressure to get this resolved.

``This is not the right thing to do to people. It's an unfortunate way to carry on negotiations, where people who are going to be harmed are held hostage. It's the most unfortunate part of the negotiations.''

Of 3,166 calls to city hotlines by 5 p.m. yesterday, 295 went to the Police Department alleging landlord harassment, said OEM director Jerome Hauer.

Only 23 of those complaints resulted in a patrol car responding, and most of these were called ``unfounded.'' A handful were referred to landlord/tenant court, OEM officials said.

At police headquarters, where the OEM's 24-hour hotline is based, Hauer said he expected the call volume to rise today if no agreement renewing rent protections were reached in Albany.

``I imagine, of course, if things are allowed to expire, it will be very, very busy,'' Hauer said, adding that he could expand if necessary beyond the 30 staffers now assigned by adding another communications room.

By mid-afternoon, the OEM hotline alone logged 389 calls from Queens, 341 from Brooklyn, 787 from Manhattan, 124 from the Bronx and eight from Staten Island, the office reported.

Opponents of rent deregulation held a candlelight vigil outside the governor's Manhattan office last night, but Giuliani said he wouldn't attend, adding that his most useful role would be dealing on a ``confidential basis'' with negotiators in Albany.

``I think I have to keep the lines of communication open with them,'' Giuliani said.

From the site of the vigil on the East Side, one of Giuliani's Democratic challengers for mayor, Manhattan Borough President Ruth Messinger, said Giuliani was failing to persuade fellow Republicans to protect tenants, then trying to ``distance himself'' from the process.

``If there's no agreement, I believe the city must use every procedure and authority it has or can find to be sure no New Yorker loses his or her home,'' Messinger said.

For his part, Giuliani said, ``The plan we have is based on them not reaching an agreement. People ... need to know the things they can do to protect their legal rights.''

''They do have something to worry about, long-term,'' he said of the callers.