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New York Times article today - rent hearings at city council

Posted by Peter on March 07, 2000 at 11:22:13:

March 7, 2000

Council Close to Renewing New
York Rent Regulations


ent regulation protections covering 1.1 million
apartments in New York City would be renewed
for three more years under legislation approved
yesterday by a City Council committee. Both the full
Council and and Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani are
expected to back the extension.

The triennial debate over whether to extend the rent
laws drew hundreds of people to two days of hearings.
The outcome left landlord and tenant groups voicing
their dissatisfaction.

The latest issue to put the two sides at odds is a new
provision in the legislation that is intended to curb
abuses in the deregulation of vacated apartments.

Under existing law, landlords can free vacant
apartments from regulation if they make improvements
that let them raise the rent above $2,000 a month.
Critics say the existing system enables landlords to
deregulate apartments without notifying anyone or
proving that the apartments qualify for $2,000-plus

Under the new rule, landlords would be required to tell
the first new tenant to rent such an apartment what the
old, regulated rent was, how the new rent was
calculated and how to contact the state agency that
oversees rent regulation to verify the apartment's rent

Tenant groups view the new rule as "helpful but not
that big of a deal, because it is very hard to enforce,"
and because state housing officials are lax, said
Michael McKee, the associate director of the city's
largest tenant group, the New York State Tenants and
Neighbors Coalition.

The head of the city's biggest landlord group, Joseph
Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization
Association, said, "These provisions would simply
promote further bureaucracy for the benefit of the
wealthiest, most resourceful and least needy of all
regulated tenants."

The broader legislation authorizes the continuation of
rent control and rent stabilization by certifying that the
city has a housing shortage, legally defined as a
vacancy rate below 5 percent. A federal Census
Bureau survey found that the vacancy rate last year
was 3.19 percent.

The committee vote was 8 to 1. The sole objection
came from the council's Republican minority leader,
Thomas V. Ognibene of Queens. He called rent
regulation "a self-perpetuating system" that
discourages construction, continuing the housing
shortage and the pressure for controls to keep rents
from skyrocketing.

The poor and elderly should be protected, Mr.
Ognibene said, but "it's not the role of government to
subsidize the rents of people who could afford to pay

Although the council's action will meet a March 31
deadline for extending rent regulation, it is not the last
word in the debate this year.

Councilman Stanley E. Michels, a Democrat from
Manhattan, has proposed a resolution urging the State
Legislature to repeal its limits on the city's powers over

And another protenant councilman, Stephen DiBrienza,
a Democrat from Brooklyn, is drafting a resolution
urging the state to repeal vacancy decontrol for
apartments renting for more than $2,000.

A separate bill he is drafting would shift rent-controlled
apartments to the rent-stabilization system, which could
help hold the line on rent increases. The bill would also
eliminate a so-called "poor tax" that allows a $15
monthly surcharge on apartments renting for $500 or

The prospect for the bills is uncertain at best. Tenant
leaders have accused the Council's Speaker, Peter F.
Vallone, a Democrat from Queens, of having sided with
the landlord lobby in the past and of becoming more
friendly to tenants now because he aspires to become

Mr. Vallone's spokeswoman, Rica Rinzler, called the
charges "ridiculous," adding that "Speaker Vallone has
supported tenant rights and rent regulations for years."

Mr. McKee said tenants "are going to put an enormous
amount of pressure on the council."

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