Renters Won't Forgive Albany for Decontrol Mess

Newsday, June 11, 1997
Be careful, Albany.

It's one thing to weigh in late with the state budget year after year. While reprehensible, most New Yorkers don't take this display of flagrant political incompetence personally.

Rent regulations are a different matter.

The current regulations will expire on June 15 - unless the state Legislature enacts a new law. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Brunswick) says he won't extend the law if the battle over protections isn't resolved by then. Which means, if the regulations die, they die. Most political pros think Bruno is bluffing. And why not? Albany plays similar games as it confronts many important issues.

The problem is, this time, the politicians are toying with the peace of mind of 2.7 million New Yorkers in regulated apartments. The big players should be ashamed of themselves, because they've had months to settle this question. The least that Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Gov. George Pataki can do now is resolve the dispute before the June 15 deadline kicks in. New York needs an orderly transition from regulated rents to a free market - not some helter-skelter compromise cooked up at the 11th hour or well beyond.

Vacancy decontrol offers the best hope of measured change. Under this plan, people now in regulated apartments would not lose their protection. An apartment would not be deregulated until the current renter dies or moves. Not only is this fair, it offers a gradual shift to a free housing market. This would spare New York City, in particular, the wrenching shift of a sudden conversion. Meanwhile, Bruno makes some sense as he tries to pare the number of people eligible to succeed a lessee in a regulated apartment. He would hold the list to spouses, parents and children.

The current law needs to change - but in an orderly way. A sudden lapse in the statute would be unforgivable. A run of last-minute extensions wouldn't be a whole lot better. If New Yorkers are angry now, just wait until Albany starts jerking them around with a process that's as whimsical as it is chaotic.