Tenants & Allies Plan City, Albany Protests

By Merle English
Newsday, June 5, 1997

In a final push to save rent laws expiring at midnight June 15, tenants and their advocates announced yesterday a new round of demonstrations in the city and in Albany next week.

In addition, two of the city's top prosecutors urged that legislators stop the clock and weigh the impact should the rent laws end.

Showdown '97, a citywide coalition, is mobilizing tenants to board buses for the state capital Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is expected to introduce a bill that he said yesterday would gradually phase out rent regulations.

``We want to be there when Bruno votes out his bill,'' said Berniece Siegal, legal adviser to the Queens League of United Tenants, a coalition member. ``The tenants want to be witnesses to what goes on in their State Senate.''

Organizers have scheduled a protest next Thursday targeting Gov. George Pataki that will take place from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Real Estate Board of New York, 12 E. 41st St. From there tenants will march to Pataki's office, three blocks away at 633 Third Avenue to picket ``and let him him know we don't buy his compromise,'' Siegal said.

Pataki proposed a plan similar to Bruno's. Under Bruno's proposal, however, rents would be deregulated for apartments rented by tenants earning more than $125,000 annually. Pataki had proposed a threshold of $175,000. In both plans, apartments that become vacant when the tenant dies or moves voluntarily would be decontrolled and subject to market rents. And rights of succession to a rent regulated apartment would be limited to a husband and wife, their children and parents.

In other provisions of the Bruno bill, landlords who harass, threaten or intimidate tenants to force them out of their apartments would be fined $10,000 per violation. Those who attempt to raise rents above the legal limit would face ``strong'' criminal and civil penalties.

``Senator Bruno is myopic,'' Siegal said. ``He should keep his nose out of the business of the people of the City of New York and allow the State Senate and City Council representatives of this city to make the decisions with respect to their own housing.''

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes released statements yesterday pointing out negative effects on their boroughs should the rent laws expire.

Brown said he shared the same concern that Hynes and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau expressed that an end to the regulations would lead to widespread harassment of tenants by unscrupulous landlords who might use goon squads as some did in the mid-1980s to frighten tenants or withhold essential services. Queens would be especially hard hit, Brown said. It has the lowest vacancy rate of the five boroughs, many recent immigrants unaware of their legal rights and many families forced to share overcrowded apartments, some of which are illegally converted.

The criminal justice system lacks the resources to handle the flood of landlord-tenant disputes that were likely to ensue, he said.

Hynes said the situation has created a climate of fear among tenants and called on the governor and the Legislature to `'stop the clock, extend the deadline indefinitely and endeavor to reach a settlement that is fair and just for all.''

Siegal applauded the district attorneys ``for coming out and telling it like it is.'' She said, ``Rent stabilization and rent control laws provide for stability. Vacancy decontrol provides for chaos and harassment.''

Tenant advocates support a plan Cardinal John O'Connor proposed. It would extend rent laws while a blue-ribbon panel explores the city's housing needs.