Progress But No Closure in Rent Control Debate

Legislators pass another extension of the current law as debate lingers

By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
|  Monday, Jun 20, 2011  |  Updated 8:02 PM EDT
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Progress But No Closure in Rent Control Debate

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver

Legislators' talks about extending rent controls on more than one million New York City apartments stretched into Monday night without resolution as another emergency 24-hour extension was passed to keep existing controls in place.

After a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos said there was progress but no closure.

"We're looking to protect lower and moderate-income families," Skelos said. "We're not looking to protect the wealthy."

Assembly member Linda Rosenthal, standing with tenants and advocates, said current rent protections are full of loopholes for landlords. "The time has come to stop them from reaching into tenants' pockets at every turn."

An Assembly-passed bill, meant to also protect middle-class renters, would close loopholes and repeal vacancy decontrol that lets landlords deregulate apartments when monthly rents reach $2,000.

Monday evening, after a second leaders' meeting, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said he thinks Cuomo is flexible, but the Senate has not been. "I would not say there was any great progress at this meeting," he said. "We are continuing to work on it."

Skelos said nothing was resolved.

Some tenant advocates want Cuomo to declare a state of emergency and suspend the state law for rent control, turning the issue over to the City Council.

Judith Goldiner, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, said some of the 2.5 million affected tenants face unjust evictions and rent increases every day and that constitutes an emergency.

Michael McKee, treasurer of TenantsPAC, said another big issue is the lack of enforcement.

The Real Estate Board of New York, which represents brokers, owners, builders and others involved in city real estate, had no comment Monday on developments in Albany. A spokeswoman said the board planned to issue a statement Tuesday.

Cuomo has threatened to keep lawmakers in Albany until rent protections are secured, but he hasn't prescribed terms. He says a short-term lapse shouldn't threaten tenants.

Last week, lawmakers temporarily restored the city rent control law until midnight Monday while a long-term solution was sought. That extension was retroactive to its expiration earlier so tenants would be protected from any rent increase or evictions that landlords might have sought after the law lapsed. It followed a previous temporary extension.

Tenant advocates criticized a proposal reported in the New York Post on Monday that would raise the apartment decontrol rent level to $2,500. They said the old $2,000 threshold was set in 1993, and that boost would be far below inflation.

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