Bruno In Reverse Over Rent

by Michael Slackman
Newsday, June 12, 1997
Albany - The Legislature's top proponent of doing away with state rent laws yesterday dropped two of his demands and agreed to allow gay, lesbian and other unmarried couples to pass along leases to their partners when they move out or die.

Insisting that his flip-flop demonstrates a willingness to compromise, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) proposed legislation that is virtually identical to the package developed by Gov. George Pataki.

After dropping his central demand - that rent laws be phased out by a specific date - weeks ago, Bruno caved in on other issues yesterday, including his stand that unmarried couples face eviction if their names are not on the lease when their partners move out or die.

Bruno said he changed his mind after talking to Pataki and some of his Republican colleagues in the Senate "who represent a lot of those people."

"These are people who are families and they consider themselves families whether they're married or not and I think that argument's pretty persuasive," he said.

Bruno's position was outlined in a bill he slipped onto the legislative calendar before the Senate ended session yesterday.

Bruno was unable to get a bill through the normal committee process, so he used a parlimentary maneuver to bypass the system virtually every other bill must pass through before it is voted on. His plan, which was technically amended to another senator's bill, will now be elegible for a vote on Sunday.

The laws regulating what more than 2 million tenants in New York City and the suburbs pay in rent are scheduled to expire midnight Sunday.

Bruno has been fighting since December to swiftly phase out the system. At the same time, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has been fighting to maintain the status quo.

Pataki, meanwhile, crafted a plan that he said was a compromise based on the notion of vacancy decontrol that would protect all but the wealthiest existing tenants until they voluntarily leave their homes or die. At that point landlords could charge market rates.

But Silver and tenant groups have adamantly opposed vacancy decontrol. While officials have for the first time talked about the remote possibility they will resolve the debate before the laws expire on Sunday, there continued to be no compromise in sight.

"The whole hang-up is vacancy control," Bruno said. "We are not doing a bill that doesn't have vacancy decontrol in it."

Patricia Lynch, Silver's spokeswoman, said the speaker could not comment because he was observing a Jewish holiday yesterday. The observance ends today, at sundown and negotiations are to resume tomorrow.

Bruno also lifted from Pataki a proposal that apartments be decontrolled when household income is $175,000 a year or higher.

He had initially set that figure at $125,000. Currently, apartments are deregulated if household income is $250,000 and monthly rent is $2,000 or more.

Unlike Pataki, Bruno insists that leases only be passed to family members one time. Pataki said the so-called "right of succession" should be available to extended members with no one-time limit.