NYC rent regulations covering 2M tenants to lapse if state lawmakers don't strike deal

Associated Press

State lawmakers on Monday were considering a short-term extension of rent regulations covering more than 2 million tenants in and around New York City as they faced a midnight deadline to renew the law.

Lawmakers were considering a two-day extension of the deadline to allow them to reach a compromise on the regulations.

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The Assembly's Democratic majority wants to strengthen the law to include more protections against rent increases when rent-regulated apartments become vacant. The Senate's Republican leaders want tougher income eligibility verifications to ensure tenants qualify for rent stabilization.

The negotiations have become tied to unrelated legislative proposals as lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo seek a grand bargain before adjourning the 2015 session, which is scheduled to end Wednesday.

"Do your jobs! You're playing with people's lives," said Esteban Giron, one of several New York City tenants who gathered outside Cuomo's Capitol office Monday.

Giron, a 36-year-old social media consultant, said rent regulations make it possible for him to live in the city without paying hundreds more each month in rent.

The slow pace of the negotiations and the approaching midnight deadline frustrated Sen. Adriano Espaillat, D-Manhattan, who said his office was getting calls from frantic tenants worried their rent protections would go away. He said the legislative pace reflects poorly on state government and noted that lawmakers knew about the deadline years ago and have been in session since January.

"This is also about competence and a functioning democracy," Espaillat said. "We had six months. We had a couple of years. And we're here at the 11th hour."

The immediate impact of a lapse in the rules would likely be minor. Landlords of rent-regulated units must give notice to tenants about rent increases or evictions, and Cuomo vowed to go after landlords who exploit the law's expiration. And whatever deal lawmakers agree to would likely be made retroactive.

Senate Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said Sunday that the Senate GOP majority is "committed to finding a solution" but that any extension of the rent rules "must include meaningful and systemic reforms which eliminate the abuses that exist, and create a better path to affordable housing in New York City."

In particular, the Senate plan would extend the rules for eight years and include new requirements that tenants verify their income to receive the protection of the rent rules, as well as a system to ensure that the apartment is in fact the tenant's primary residence.

Cuomo quickly rejected the proposal and said he wants an extension that comes with "improvements" to the existing rules.

The Assembly passed a plan in May that would renew the rules for four years, restrict rent increases in vacant apartments and repeal a provision in the current law allowing some apartments to be deregulated when they become vacant.

Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, met with Cuomo on Monday behind closed doors. Both legislative chambers expected to work into the evening as negotiations on rent and other issues wore on.

Typically, many of the final issues are wrapped into a large deal worked out by the governor and the leaders of the Assembly and Senate. Both Flanagan and Heastie are new to the job, having taken over for leaders forced out after unrelated corruption charges earlier this year.