Silver willing to compromise on rent control
But vacancy decontrol is off limits, speaker tells Pataki and Bruno

Albany Times Union, June 14, 1997
ALBANY -- With the end of rent regulation in sight, Sheldon Silver blinked.

The speaker of the Assembly, one of only three real players in the political brouhaha that is holding the state budget hostage, on Friday said he would agree to some concessions in order to ensure that the rent regulations that have protected his Manhattan constituents for 50 years remain at least partially intact.

Silver, the Democratic leader of the Assembly, had for six months refused to even consider Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's pledge to eliminate rules that keep rents, primarily in the New York City region, below market. But as the clocks tick toward the expiration of the rent laws Sunday night, Silver said he is willing to compromise, except on the issue of vacancy decontrol.

For Silver, compromise means coming up with some plan that will perpetuate rent regulations in some form, rather than phase them out, as Bruno prefers.

Gov. George Pataki, the other player in the triumvirate, last month came up with a plan that he said would protect virtually all current tenants and their families, but would slowly allow the system to fade. Silver rejected that plan.

"It is time the governor stopped representing the interests of 25,000 landlords,'' Silver said Friday morning.

On Friday, state leaders started counting down the hours to the stroke of midnight Sunday, and finally began holding lengthy meetings to try to forge a new compromise law.

''I would hope we could resolve this in the next 61 hours, before midnight Sunday,'' Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said at a news conference Friday morning. "I'm hopeful we'll have a deal by Sunday.''

Silver was uncharacteristically flexible on Friday, saying that he's willing to negotiate on everything except vacancy decontrol. Under vacancy decontrol, demanded by both Bruno and Pataki, rent restrictions are lifted from apartments when the occupants move out or die.

"We will not bend on vacancy decontrol,'' Silver said. "Other issues are reachable -- there is an area of common ground on all the other issues.''

But Bruno seems unbending on that issue.

"We keep telling each other the same things that we've been telling each other in meetings for weeks and months, with no progress,'' Bruno said. "Shelly is saying he won't do anything with vacancy decontrol in it, and I'm saying we won't do anything unless it has vacancy decontrol in it.''

Silver wouldn't rule out changes to luxury decontrol, which would lower the income threshold for tenants who receive the benefit. The threshold is currently at $250,000, and Pataki and Bruno want to lower it to $175,000.

Silver also wouldn't rule out an increase to the "vacancy bonus,'' which allows landlords to increase rents -- within strict limits -- when an apartment become vacant. And sources said there are other alternatives under discussion that could achieve some of the goals of vacancy decontrol.

Silver, Pataki and Bruno met virtually all day Friday, breaking off talks early in the evening. Negotiations resume at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, although staffers will likely be at work on a possible compromise today, and both houses of the Legislature are scheduled to be in session Sunday evening.

Meanwhile, the New York 1 television news channel reported that from the late 1960s well into the next decade, Pataki had lived in rent-stabilized apartments in New York City. Pataki told New York 1 it "made me very aware of the need to protect tenants.''

Pataki appeared glum at the end of the day and was preparing for the rent laws to expire.

"I'd like to say one thing to the landlords: If you're thinking of taking advantage of this opportunity to harass your tenants, you had better stop now because we will do everything we can under the law to make sure that landlords who attempt that will be punished to the full extent of the law,'' Pataki said.

But insiders say they hold out some hope for a last-minute compromise -- and possibly even momentum that could lead to some progress on the long-stalled budget talks.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.