Rent Board Readies Hikes

by Dan Janison
Newsday, June 17, 1997
Resuming business hours after state lawmakers struck a deal to save rent laws, the city Rent Guidelines Board yesterday was considering increases of up to 4 percent on two-year leases.

The board, created under the same rent-stabilization law disputed in recent months, is appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who yesterday expressed relief that city apartments weren't totally deregulated.

The proposal before the board would allow increases of up to 2 percent on one-year leases and 4 percent on two-year leases. Last year the board approved record increases of 5 and 7 percent, respectively.

A vote on the proposed rent-hike authorization is due next week.

The board also proposes that rent on an apartment can rise up to 9 percent once vacated, but that's expected to give way to new state legislation allowing vacancy increases of 20 percent and more.

Sandra Van Buren of the landlords' Rent Stabilization Association spoke of high costs related to cleaning, painting, utilities, credit checks and forgone rent while apartments sit vacant.

``Tenants have costs, too,'' replied Adele Bender, a longtime apartment dweller from Forest Hills. ``We've paid increase after increase after increase.''

Public Advocate Mark Green submitted testimony against the proposed increases, saying they apparently reflect higher costs than building owners really face. The board historically grants greater increases than called for under a formula its own staff uses, he said.

Clearly relieved by the middle-of-the-night rent-law deal in Albany, Giuliani praised Gov. George Pataki for showing leadership - just 18 hours after calling Pataki's rejection of a compromise plan ``laughable.''

``Whether it would have been fair or not, the governor would have gotten most of the blame if the expiration had actually occurred,'' Giuliani said. ``The fact is the governor is now entitled to a great deal of the credit.''

The mayor said there were parts of the deal with which he disagreed, but declined to elaborate.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone, considering a bid for Pataki's job next year, blasted the governor for ``a terrible lack of leadership.''

While avoiding any criticism of Giuliani's role, Vallone (D-Astoria) said Assemb. Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and other party members ``were able to make the best of a very bad situation.''

``This was a politically fabricated crisis that need not have occurred at all,'' Vallone said, repeating the point he and Giuliani pressed, that the whole rent question should have been a matter of home rule.

Predicting that the GOP bid to end rent protections would haunt Pataki next year, Vallone charged that only when polls showed them in an unpopular position did Sen. Al D'Amato (R-N.Y.), Pataki and Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) bend.

``I don't think their philosophies changed at all,'' Vallone said.``The end doesn't justify the means, and the means used here was to terrify and hold hostage millions of people.''