ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Wednesday that he will sign a new bill to strengthen rent control laws that will protect more than 2 million tenants in a measure that could, for the first time, extend the decades-old New York City measure statewide.
“I will sign it,” Cuomo said, promising he wouldn’t require any amendments. “My point all along was I want the best tenant protections … I believe it is a step forward and I believe it is the best they can do.”
The bill agreed to by legislative leaders would:
- Make the law “permanent,” ending the need to extend the measure every four to eight years, which often becomes a major fight that can be tied to unrelated measures.
- No longer require that apartments be exempt from regulation if the rent rises to a certain level, becomes vacant, or the tenant earns $200,000 or more. Advocates say these provisions deregulated 300,000 apartments since 1994.
- No longer allow landlords to raise rent as much as 20 percent when the unit becomes vacant.
- Prohibit landlords from passing along increases in fuel costs.
- Reduce rent increases to 2 percent, from 6 percent, in New York City; and to 2 percent, from 15 percent, in other counties.
- Makes unlawful eviction a Class A misdemeanor.
- Allows municipalities outside New York City with a vacancy rate of 5 percent or less to be governed by the rent regulation law.
“The bill that the Senate and Assembly worked very hard on is one of the strongest renter-protection bills in a generation,” said Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All, a tenant advocacy group. “It is an enormous step forward in correcting the power imbalance between renters and landlords … but there is still a long way to go for millions of tenants, many on Long Island, that have no power whatsoever."
However, Taxpayers for an Affordable New York, which supports landlords, said the bill “fails to address the city’s housing crisis and will lead to disinvestment” in development of new housing, and could lead to further disrepair of rent-controlled apartments.
Rank-and-file legislators whose constituents are served by the law said in interviews that the measure starts to correct years of extensions of the law that they believe favored landlords, whose interests were supported by the former Republican majority of the Senate.
“We lost a couple decades that tilted more power away from tenants toward landlords,” said Sen. John Liu (D-Queens). “I remind the free-market antagonists out there that this isn’t price controls, it's an anti-gouging measure.” He noted the laws only apply when the city’s vacancy rate is under 5 percent, which can drive up demand and rent.
“I think it was the best possible solution,” said Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn), “especially as it relates to protections for tenants.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the bill “a remarkable achievement that will halt displacement, harassment and unjust evictions, and keep working families in the homes they love … these reforms mean we can go from just holding the line to actually growing the number of apartments New Yorkers can afford.”
Cuomo, anxious to extend the rent law before it expired Saturday, took an unusual tact on Tuesday by challenging the Assembly and Senate to pass any bill they could and saying he would sign it.
The chambers worked into Tuesday night to come up with a new bill and to overcome internal political conflicts among legislators that had stalled approval. The bill is expected to pass both houses on Friday and be signed by Cuomo before the rent law expires on Saturday.
“None of these historic new tenant protections would be possible without the fact that New York finally has a united Democratic Legislature,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) in a joint statement.