Tenants Are Set to Protest
Campaign to save rent laws

by Merle English
Newsday, June 12, 1997
Tenants around the city plan acts of civil disobedience in Manhattan today as their campaign to save rent laws due to expire Sunday heats up.

Tenant groups will gather at 41st Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues at 4:30 p.m. and march to the offices of the Real Estate Board at East 41st Street and Third Avenue.

Some of the tenants intend to lie down in the street. "I am one of them," said Penny Laforest, an organizer with the Queens League of United Tenants.

"We feel very strongly that the governor's position is bought by the real estate industry, and we find it unacceptable that for him to say that [Senate Majority Leader Joseph] Bruno has moved," said Berniece Siegal, the league's legal adviser. "There needs to be a critical analysis of the housing crisis, and everyone is avoiding that."

Bruno, who triggered the impasse when he vowed earlier this year to end rent control, has mellowed his stance. He had proposed a plan in which rents would be deregulated for apartments rented by tenants earning more than $125,000 annually when the tenant moves voluntarily or dies.

But tenant advocates are adamantly against vacancy decontrol, contending that tenants would be subject to unaffordable rents and harassment and eviction from landlords.

Warren Wexler, a spokesman for the Real Estate Board, said the board was informed that today's demonstration will be orderly.

He said board officials wanted to know why tenants have not challenged State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's refusal to negotiate on Gov. George Pataki's plan, "which would protect 99 percent of the tenants."

Pataki proposed a plan similar to Bruno's, but under the governor's proposal, apartments rented by tenants earning more than $175,000 would be deregulated.

In an interview yesterday Jennie Laurie, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, said tenants support Silver.

"We applaud the speaker for his very firm bargaining stance, and we're very grateful to him," she said. "If he'd given in before now, we would be looking for the end."