Rent protection is saved at the bell

by Gregg Birnbaum, Tom Topousis, Dareh Gregorian, Mark Stamey and Andy Geller
New York Post, June 16, 1997
Gov. Pataki and legislative leaders late last night reached an 11th-hour deal that preserves protection for about 99 percent of the of 2.5 million tenants under rent stabilization.

The deal removes protection for some wealthy tenants, but -- in a major victory for Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver -- it does not contain vacancy decontrol.

Many details were not announced by early today, but Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said lawyers forboth sides would work through the night to put the pact into writing.

He said the Legislature would meet this morning to approve the six-year deal.

The measure would be retroactive to midnight, when the old rent controls, enacted after World War II, expired.

"There is a conceptual agreement," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who appeared to have won his battle to preserve the rent-protection system.

"I'm glad we avoided a crisis," Silver added.

"I am happy but not ecstatic," said Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, who began his fight to end rent controls last December by saying he wanted to abolish the system "as we know it" -- phasing out stablization.

He said he saw the deal "as a way to get where we have all wanted to be -- to protect all the tenants that we can protect. We think we have accomplished that. I'm happy because I think we're getting where we have to be and that will lead to stimulating construction ."

"I think the people can claim victory," Pataki said. "It's a tremendous compromise. This is a tremendous victory for the people. The tenants will all be protected."

The highlights of the plan include: Some wealthy tenants would lose their protection.

Under the old law, there was no protection for tenants earning $250,000 a year or more and paying $2,000 a month or more.

Under the new deal, the earning limit is $175,000 and the rent remains the same at $2,000 a month.

Real-estate industry sources estimated that only 1 percent of previously regulated tenants would be affected by this. Succession rights would be limited to only one generation. Landlords would be able to increase rents for vacant apartments by more than the current 9 percent.

The vacancy bonus would be increased to at least 20 percent and if the tenant has lived in the apartment for eight years, there will be an additional sum on top of that.

It is believed the deal will add a double-digit increase -- possibly as much as 20 percent -- on top of that. There would be increased penalties for landlords who harass tenants. Tenants would have to place rent checks in escrow accounts during disputes with landlords. The deal will encourage new affordable housing construction because it guarantees under state law that the new apartments can never be rent regulated.

Bruno said the Legislature would meet at 9 a.m. today, and he expected the new bill would be passed by 10 or 11 a.m.

The breakthrough came after thousands of confused and panicked tenants deluged emergency hot lines and protesters converged on the capitol to demand the laws be continued.

The negotiations had begun yesterday on a note of extreme pessimism as hundreds of protesters converged on the Capitol, singing civil-rights songs.

Other tenants held a vigil outside Pataki's Manhattan office, where there was joy after the deal was announced.

Kernan Huttick, 37, lives on West 22 Street said: "If the rent laws are conserved I'm totally relieved. I can sleep tonite without fear of being evicted."

Another tenant said: "Great! If they're going to preserve the laws, that's wonderful."