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Albany deal would strengthen rent-control laws, reversing 25-year trend

Senate and Assembly leaders said they've reached a

Senate and Assembly leaders said they've reached a deal to renew rent regulations for more than 1 million units, primarily in New York City. Photo Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Senate and Assembly leaders said Tuesday they’ve reached a deal to renew rent regulations for more than 1 million units, primarily in New York City.

Among the key elements, lawmakers say the new law will eliminate “vacancy decontrol,” the means by which landlords can get apartments deregulated, according to officials briefed on the agreement. That would put an end to the process that has been in place for 25 years and has caused 300,000 or more apartments to go out of rent control and into the open market.

The deal on rent also gives municipalities an option to participate in rent control if it deems there is a housing “emergency,” based on less than 5 percent of apartments being available and other triggers. It also will limit rent increases tied to capital and individual apartment improvements and eliminate a provision that permitted landlords to increase rent by 20 percent any time a vacancy occurred.

Importantly, it will make the laws permanent, another major victory for tenant groups. Previously, the law would be set to expire every few years — guaranteeing a regular political fight in Albany, replete with lots of lobbying and campaign contributions to lawmakers.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said their houses plan to vote on the bill by Friday — one day before the expiration of the state’s current rent regulations. 

“For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state," Stewart-Cousins and Heastie said in a joint statement. 

Vacancy decontrol had been fiercely guarded by Republicans who controlled the State Senate and by the real-estate industry in every rent-law negotiation for more than two decades. But Democrats seized full control of the  legislature last year and promised to make ending vacancy decontrol a top priority. The leaders cited the political shift in power in announcing the deal.

 "None of these historic new tenant protections would be possible without the fact that New York finally has a united Democratic legislature," Stewart-Cousins and Heastie said.

The agreement, if it holds, shifts pressure to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has been sparring verbally with his fellow Democrats over rent for weeks. Tuesday morning, he said he didn't believe the legislature had the votes necessary to approve a strong, pro-tenant package, that he was not negotiating with Heastie and Stewart-Cousins and that he would sign whatever the houses would pass.

“There is no negotiation. I will sign the best bill they can pass,” Cuomo told reporters.

Almost all of the rent-regulated apartments are in the five boroughs of New York City, though Nassau County has about 9,000 units, according to tenant activists.

But tenants didn’t get everything on their wish list. The package doesn’t include a provision to retroactively bring deregulated apartments back under rent regulations, sources said. And the push by some lawmakers for statewide, or "universal," rent control wasn't included.

A landlord group, the Community Housing Improvement Program, said the proposals being weighed by legislators “would devastate New York City’s housing stock and all but wipe out small, local property owners.”

With Michael Gormley

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