Editorial: Pataki's Rent Control Compromise
a Good Start


05/15/97 Newsday

Gov. George Pataki, would-be peacemaker in the fight for rent deregulation, has already given landlords and tenants something they can agree on: They both hate his nine-point program to end rent regulations - ever so slowly - through vacancy decontrol.

The landlords believe the governor's plan would preserve the status quo indefinitely. After all, Pataki would let the relatives of lease-holders retain their current rights of succession to apartments. Meanwhile, tenant groups believe that while Pataki's plan looks moderate, it would doom rent regulations.

Well, we hope it does precisely that.

Under vacancy decontrol, regulations would be lifted from all the state's rent-stabilized apartments as soon as the current tenants die or move away. That's the only responsible way to handle a potentially disruptive - but long overdue - shift to a free market. It shouldn't happen instantly.

How long should it take? Unfortunately, the time line in Pataki's plan is clouded by regulations governing the rights of succession to a rent-regulated apartment. State regulations seem to say that eligible family members (including even aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews)must have lived with the renter in an apartment for at least two years if they are to inherit the renter's regulated rent. At the same time nonfamily members may claim rights of succession if they have lived with the renter for at least two years and they can prove "an emotional and financial commitment."

Mind you, these rules apply only to units regulated by state law. Rights of succession may differ for city-regulated apartments.

Bottom line: If implemented well, Pataki's plan could be both just and effective. Rent regulations need to end - but nobody wants to throw widows and other dependents out in the streets. But with a liberal interpretation of the regulations in the courts, decontrol could still be going on a century hence.

For now, Pataki deserves praise for putting a pragmatic plan on the table. He has moved the argument for vacancy decontrol forward. It's not perfect, but it beats official silence.