Rent bill wins easy approval in Albany
by GREGG BIRNBAUMALBANY -- The state Legislature last night passed the new rent bill, extending protections for the vast majority of tenants while also putting some extra money in landlords' pockets.
New York Post, June 20, 1997
The Democrat-controlled Assembly approved the legislation in a mostly party-line vote, 93 to 53, and the Republican-led state Senate passed it 59 to 1.
Democrats and tenant leaders are ecstatic over the rent bill, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was hailed as their hero for getting the best of Gov. Pataki and state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R-Rensselaer) at the negotiating table.
Passage of the "Rent Regulation Reform Act of 1997" comes four days after Pataki, Bruno and Silver said they had settled on a peace agreement after their six-month-long rent war.
"It really represents the most historic and sweeping reform of housing policy in a long, long time," said Pataki, who is likely to sign the bill into law today.
Rent protections covering 2.5 million tenants expired at midnight on Sunday, shortly before the agreement was announced. Pataki, Bruno, Silver and their lawyers haggled over the details of the bill nearly around the clock for most of the week.
The new 31-page rent law, which is retroactive to Sunday and runs until June 15, 2003, infuriated many landlords, who wanted to begin phasing out the 50-year-old rent-regulation system with vacancy decontrol.
Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), a landlord group, broke his four-day silence to call the legislation "far from what is needed for the health of the city's rental-housing market," although he praised some of its landlord-friendly provisions.
Strasburg's statement included a prediction -- contradicting Pataki -- that the city would see "no new significant housing construction" under the bill. But an RSA representative later said that comment was a mistake and was being withdrawn.
Bruno launched the rent war on behalf of landlords in December when he vowed to end rent control "as we know it."
A tense-looking Bruno yesterday dismissed sniping from some landlords, saying, "The landlords have their feelings."
The complicated rent bill includes the following major provisions:
- It lowers the tenant-income level at which apartments renting for $2,000 a month or more are decontrolled, from $250,000 to $175,000.
- It allows landlords to hike rents on vacant apartments by at least 20 percent for tenants with two-year leases, giving additional sliding-scale increases for apartments that have been occupied for more than eight years.
- It forces tenants to put their rent checks in an escrow account during a rent dispute with a landlord until the Housing Court has ruled.
- It enacts new criminal penalties and fines for landlords who harass tenants.
- It tightens succession rights by removing aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins from the list of family members and relatives who can inherit rent-stabilized apartments.
- It encourages new housing development by guaranteeing that newly built projects will never be dragged into the rent-regulation system.