Bruno Seeks 1-Generation Limit on Apartment Succession

New York Times, May 17, 1997

ALBANY, N.Y. -- State Senate majority leader Joseph Bruno said Friday that he could support allowing immediate family members to inherit rent-regulated apartments, but only for one generation.

He argued that granting so-called succession rights to additional generations would extend the current rent system "for the next two centuries."

Bruno, a Rensselaer County Republican who has been leading the push to abolish the rent protections, also lashed out at Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, saying that his efforts to defend the existing rent protections will insure that the laws lapse in one month, potentially eliminating protections on 1.1 million apartments.

The rules are scheduled to end June 16, and Bruno has vowed to let them expire if Silver, a Manhattan Democrat who advocates extending the laws unchanged, does not agree to sharply scaling back the protections.

"Every tenant is going to be deregulated on the 16th if Silver stays where he is," Bruno said. "I fully expect it will expire. And I don't care how many people rant and rave and shout."

The majority leader also took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Gov. George Pataki, calling a suggestion by the governor that elderly tenants be allowed to take rent protections with them when they move to unregulated apartments from regulated ones "ridiculous."

Bruno's remarks on succession rights elaborated his position on an issue that has emerged as a main sticking point between him and Pataki. Both men support a policy known as vacancy decontrol, where restrictions on rent increases are lifted from apartments once they are vacated. The policy would lead to the eventual end of the rent regulation system, but the speed at which that would happen depends largely on what kind of succession rules exist.

Under current rules, blood relatives, in-laws and domestic partners can inherit regulated apartments once their current tenants move away or die. Pataki and Silver both want to continue those rules. But Bruno called Friday for restricting succession rights to immediate families, and only for one generation, while ending those rights for unmarried domestic partners.

Without restrictions on succession rights, "People will transfer those apartments to anyone forever," Bruno said. "And that's wrong. It is not democracy. It is not the American way. And I'm not going to be a party to it."

In an effort to temper his remarks, Bruno also reiterated his willingness to drop his demand that the rent system end in a fixed number of years, and strongly hinted he would accept vacancy decontrol as his bottom line in the rent negotiations -- provided succession rights are restricted.

"The key is if you have vacancy decontrol over the years, without succession," he said. "If you have succession as present law dictates, you'll have rent control for the next two centuries."

Despite the differences between Pataki and Bruno, tenants' advocates contend that the two are working in tandem to dismantle the rent protections. The advocates contend that Pataki's aides have been warning them that Bruno is serious about letting the laws lapse June 16 in an effort to frighten them into accepting vacancy decontrol.

Indeed, Billy Easton, a tenant leader, said Friday that in a private meeting last week, Michael C. Finnegan, Pataki's counsel, compared the current standoff to the Cuban missile crisis, saying that Bruno could not be expected "to be as reasonable as Mr. Khrushchev," a reference to Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader who eventually stood down and removed atomic weapons from Cuba.

But Finnegan on Friday angrily denied having made the comment, accusing the tenants of trying to subvert the governor's efforts to forge a compromise. "They don't want a deal worked out, they want this whole thing to crumble," he said of Easton, who is the executive director of the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition. "Their positions are better assured if there is chaos."

Copyright 1997 The New York Times