Giuliani Forms Unit to Help Tenants if Rent Laws Expire

New York Times, June 12, 1997
NEW YORK -- In a move to distance himself from members of his party in Albany working to end rent regulations, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced the creation of a task force Wednesday to help tenants understand their rights if the state rent laws are allowed to expire Sunday.

The task force, made up of several city agencies and the Legal Aid Society, will offer residents information, legal assistance, housing assistance and protection against potential harassment, Giuliani said. Two telephone information centers will be established by Saturday to register harassment complaints, he said. Though the city will pay the phone costs, the plan does not call for money to be set aside for the task force.

The vast majority of New York City's tenants face no immediate crisis if the rent laws do expire Sunday night because existing leases will be in effect for several months and few landlords are considered likely to harass their tenants as long as negotiations continue in Albany, even after the deadline.

But by using his mayoral powers to publicize the task force, the Republican mayor is able to emphasize his support for the existing rent laws and to try to break the link that opponents have drawn between himself and Republican opponents of rent controls.

"At this point, we don't really know what they're going to do," Giuliani said of legislators in Albany, "but it is really under their control to either continue or let it expire. We urge them to extend rent stabilization now and in the future and urge them to act responsibly so that we don't have in the city of New York 2.4 million people in a state of confusion." But Giuliani stopped short of making another trip to Albany to lobby for the laws to remain intact, saying the decision was up to the leadership there.

The union between the mayor's office and the Legal Aid Society was striking because last weekend, Steven Banks, deputy attorney in charge of the civil division of the Legal Aid Society, questioned Giuliani's claim that he had set aside money in the budget to help residents fight landlord harassment in court if rent regulation laws expire.

Banks said that the city's anti-eviction financing of $1.7 million was not new and that the Legal Aid Society and Legal Services for New York must use it to keep current programs afloat. Banks and City Council Speaker Peter Vallone pointed out that Giuliani had cut the agency's funds in the executive budget but restored this in the final spending plan during negotiations.

The city also added $750,000 to the Human Resources Administration's budget to provide legal assistance to residents most vulnerable to homelessness.

But on Wednesday, Daniel Greenberg, executive director of the Legal Aid Society, stood beside Giuliani as he announced the creation of the task force, saying they had come together to respond to what they called a crisis.