I'm Ready to Make A Deal on Rent

By JOSEPH L. BRUNO

Last December, the debate over the future of rent regulations began when I called for a gradual transition away from rent regulations to an open, competitive housing market in New York City.

I reiterated that message yesterday to tenants who came to Albany and told them of my willingness to be flexible and negotiate a compromise.

I also stressed that we must continue rent protections for all senior citizens, the disabled and the poor. I have tried to make this message very clear despite all the misinformation that has been spread in an attempt to frighten tenants.

Since that time, the debate has become emotional and antagonistic despite my calls to focus the discussion on the merits of rent deregulation.

Rent regulations are a failed policy of government intervention that has perpetuated the housing shortage, resulted in thousands of abandoned buildings and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The regulations have established a system where the vast majority of people living in unregulated units subsidize, through higher rents and property taxes, the minority of people living in regulated units.

Over the past several months I have indicated my willingness to be flexible and reasonable. By demonstrating flexibility, it was my hope that the governor, Senate and Assembly could reach a compromise to avoid having the rent laws expire June 15. Unfortunately, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has not shown the same flexibility.

My original proposal called for a two-year phaseout of rent regulations. I am open to a longer period of time, but rent regulations eventually must come to an end. We cannot continue indefinitely a system that has so disrupted the New York City housing market.

The governor has called for vacancy decontrol of regulated apartments, which I support as well. Under vacancy decontrol, tenants are protected for life. That means tenants in rent-regulated units would remain protected as long as they stay in the apartments.

However, the governor's proposal also continues the current succession rules. I oppose these rules because they can literally keep a unit regulated for centuries, and they include too broad a range of people who are able to inherit somebody else's property.

I am open to continuing some form of succession, perhaps limited only to immediate members of someone's family, but I oppose the current system that guarantees succession rights to virtually anyone remotely related to the current tenant.

The governor also proposes expanded luxury decontrol for tenants making $175,000 or more. That threshold would affect 1% of regulated units.

The governor and I have both called for strong penalties against landlords who harass tenants or engage in rent gouging. These actions are wrong, and the state should punish landlords who take advantage of changes in rent laws to harass tenants.

My position has been clear from the start. We must gradually make the transition out of rent regulations and into an open, competitive housing market. I will not agree to any short or long-term extension of the current system.

A compromise can be achieved to phase out rent regulations in a responsible way, but only if Assembly Speaker Silver comes to the negotiating table. Thus far, the speaker has not demonstrated any willingness to compromise. He opposes the governor's compromise plan calling for vacancy decontrol and luxury decontrol.

I remain willing to be flexible and negotiate a compromise. The governor has proposed a plan that guarantees protections for 99% of tenants. It is a plan that can provide the framework for a negotiated agreement.

The speaker continues to refuse to negotiate and insists on maintaining the failed status quo. His intransigence will insure that the state's rent laws expire June 15. He then jeopardizes the protections currently in place for everyone.

Bruno is the Senate majority leader