Key players fail again in bid to end stalemate

by GREGG BIRNBAUM and FREDRIC U. DICKER
New York Post, June 10, 1997

ALBANY -- Rent-control talks fizzled yesterday -- and there are only five days left until the laws expire.

A 50-minute closed-door session between Gov. Pataki, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was their first meeting since last Wednesday.

The four-day cooling-off period didn't help bring the sides any closer.

"On rent control, no progress," a stern-faced Pataki said after the meeting.

"We talked about the rent issue and didn't resolve anything," Bruno (R-Rensselaer) said.

"No progress on rent," Silver (D-Manhattan) said.

Pataki, Bruno and Silver plan to get together this morning to continue negotiations on rent laws, which are due to expire at midnight on Sunday. The 50-year-old laws protect 2.5 million tenants.

Tenant advocates and Democrats attacked Pataki for planning to skip out of the Capitol and be the star attraction at a daylong golfing fund-raiser on Long Island later today, when rent regulations are only days away from dying.

The critics also noted the chairman of the $2,500-a-person outing at the Meadow Brook Golf Club is a real-estate mogul and former state housing czar, Charles Urstadt, who was dubbed the "architect of vacancy decontrol."

Urstadt also headed Pataki's post-election housing-transition group, which recommended elimination of rent protections.

"I think it sends the wrong message for Pataki to be out there relaxing, playing golf, less than a week before the laws expire," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Tenants and Neighbors Coalition.

Pataki said the Jericho event -- which tenants are planning to picket -- would not stop him from working on rent control.

"If we're making progress, whatever it takes, we will do," Pataki said.

Both Bruno and Silver have alerted lawmakers they should plan to be in Albany on Sunday night for a possible session of the Legislature if a last-minute deal is reached.

Pataki and the legislative leaders actually have only three working days -- today, Friday and Sunday -- to strike a deal.

After sundown tonight, Silver can't negotiate until after Thursday evening because of his observance of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, and he also can't work on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.

Adding to the drama, U.S. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.) was in Albany -- but kept his distance from negotiations on rent laws.

Tenant leaders have called on D'Amato, who faces a tough re-election battle next year, to lean on Pataki and Bruno to back off their rent-control plans.

"I think it would be an unwelcome intrusion if I was to put myself into this," D'Amato said at an event in Troy.

"I don't know how I could advance a settlement of this situation. I cannot believe we're going to have it resolved with anything less than an adequate program which will protect the tenants who enjoy this protection."

Bruno vowed again he would not agree to temporarily extend rent regulations past midnight Sunday to allow more time for a deal to be struck. Silver said he would back such an extension.

Bruno said he remains rock-solid committed to vacancy decontrol -- the main stumbling block to an agreement -- and said Silver and the Democrats should be held responsible if the laws expire.

Under vacancy decontrol, apartments are removed from rent protections when a tenant dies or moves and there is no legal successor.

Pataki would not say whether he will drop his demand for vacancy decontrol, but he indicated a willingness to compromise, saying, "Never have I said my way is the only way."

Silver, meanwhile, touted his $650 million plan to construct 21,000 new housing units, which he said would push the city's vacancy rate over 5 percent -- automatically ending the rent laws.

Under current law, if the vacancy rate rises above 5 percent, the "housing emergency" is officially over and rent protections are no longer in effect.

"Let's invest -- we will build our way out," said Assemblyman Vito Lopez, chairman of the Assembly Housing Committee. "We will have a revitalization in New York City."

Landlord leaders said they do not object to a housing plan, but still want to abolish the rent-regulation system in the meantime.