Gov To Guard Against Landlord Goons

by GREGG BIRNBAUM
New York Post, June 14, 1997

ALBANY -- With rent-control talks breaking down, Gov. Pataki plans to sign an executive order today giving state Attorney General Dennis Vacco a key role in stopping landlord harassment if the laws expire tomorrow, officials said.

"We will make sure that any landlord who tries to take advantage of the lapse of the laws by abusing their tenants will be punished," Pataki said.

"It will send a clear message and use what powers I have to make sure that landlords ... don't engage in harassment of tenants," Pataki said.

Rent laws run out at midnight tomorrow if there is no deal.

Pataki refused to outline what specific actions he will take in his executive order and would not comment on Vacco's role, but a source confirmed Vacco will be enlisted to crack down on unscrupulous landlords.

Vacco spokesman Chris McKenna would not comment.

Billy Easton, executive director of the Tenants and Neighbors Coalition, said there is no need for the rent laws to expire and he called on Pataki and legislative leaders to temporarily extend the laws while they continue negotiations.

"This is political cover for letting these laws expire and playing brinkmanship with tenants' homes," Easton said of Pataki's executive order.

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, said he doubted harassment would take place if the laws die, but added Pataki's executive order "is like chicken soup ... it can't hurt."

"Clearly, we don't condone any actions of any owner who does anything illegal," Strasburg said.

"For those who take advantage of an attempt to create chaos, we would support the strength of the law being thrown at them. It is our belief you won't see anything crazy occur should the laws expire."

Talks between Pataki, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver made no progress yesterday.

The leaders met mostly without aides present around a coffee table in Pataki's office at the Capitol for a total of about 4 1/2 hours.

Negotiations will resume tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. Silver cannot hold talks today because of his observance of the Jewish Sabbath.

It is unclear whether top aides to Pataki, Bruno and Silver will meet today. They may not get together because Bruno is said to be miffed about Silver-Pataki staff talks that have been taking place without his aides fully informed.

The main obstacle to an agreement remains vacancy decontrol, under which landlords could charge market prices for apartments once the original tenant dies or moves.

Bruno and Pataki favor it, while Silver said he won't even discuss it.

Bruno said his vacancy-decontrol proposal would gradually phase out rent controls over a period of 20 to 50 years. Tenants argue the system could crumble in five to 10 years.

Numerous proposals have been circulating to get around the vacancy-decontrol hangup, but none has yet gathered any steam among all parties.

The Republican-controlled state Senate and the Democrat-led Assembly are expected to return to Albany tomorrow night.

If there is no deal, the Assembly will approve legislation that would extend rent laws until July 15. Bruno has said he may ask the Senate to pass his rent plan.

Bruno vowed he won't extend the laws for "one hour" after midnight tomorrow.

While Silver opposes vacancy decontrol, he did not rule out removing more wealthy tenants from rent protections or hiking the 9 percent "vacancy bonus" that landlords are now allowed to charge when an apartment becomes vacant.