Rudy vows to protect tenants from harassment

New York Post, June 9, 1997

The battle over rent laws has entered its final week -- with state lawmakers scrambling to stake out ground and Mayor Giuliani vowing to protect tenants facing harassment from landlords.

The main players in the rent law war -- Gov. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- haven't met since Wednesday.

But they were all busy over the weekend trying to sway public opinion.

Silver (Manhattan) was in New York yesterday with the state's Democratic leaders, blasting Republicans Pataki and Bruno (Rensselaer) for reform proposals that would allow apartments to return to market rates once they become vacant.

Bruno, meanwhile, chided Silver for failing to"come to the negotiatingtable to work out a compromise agreement to protect tenants in rent-regulated apartments."

Pataki, who has his ownplan, mailed leaflets to thousands of skeptical New York tenants in a high-stakes bidto win support.

Hanging in the balance is the fate of 2.5 million tenants -- most of them in the city -- who could lose the protection of state rent regulations if lawmakers can't come to a deal by Sunday.

Silver has vowed to fight vacancy decontrol -- in fact he wants to preserve rent laws virtually as they are.

But Silver hinted yesterday that he might compromise on luxury decontrol, and he said he would consider tax abatements, low-cost mortgages and more Housing Court judges as "concessions to landlords" in exchange for continuing rent laws.

With no deal in sight, Giuliani said he's put together a contingency plan to protect tenants from harassment by landlords if the rent laws are allowed to expire.

"We have put aside funds in the budget for protection against harassment, protection against evictions, additional lawyers that would be available if it's necessary," Giuliani said.

Giuliani said it was too early to discuss the details of the contingency plan or the amount of money budgeted. "We want to get a little closer to the date before we announce that," he said.

"That was put into the budget during our negotiations with the City Council so that there would be the capacity for people to hire additional lawyers if they need them if they're being harassed."

But council Speaker Peter Vallone said there is no contingency fund.

"I think the mayor's confused on that one," said Vallone.

Vallone said the city budget includes $2.5 million for Legal Aid lawyers who try to prevent evictions that would otherwise leave families homeless. He said the program goes back to the mid-1980s.

"That's woefully inadequate to handle the numbers of evictions we'll see if the governor allows rent regulations to expire," said Vallone. "We'd need a heck of a lot more than that. We're heading for disaster."

Deputy Mayor Randy Mastro insisted that an extra $2 million was added to the budget just before it was adopted by the council Wednesday night. That money is aimed at preventing evictions.

Tenant and landlord advocates both welcomed Giuliani's call to protect tenants.

"Some landlords will try to take any opportunity to throw their tenants out and the mayor's office can try to stop this," said Billy Easton, director of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Council.

"That is fine, but we don't believe it will be a problem," said Dan Margulies of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord lobbyist group.

The vast majority of tenants will not be immediately affected even if rent laws lapse because leases for the current year won't begin to expire until after October.