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Landlords file federal lawsuit to block New York rent control laws

ALBANY — Landlord groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of New York’s freshly enacted rent control law.

Landlords said the law — which clamped down on rent hikes and ended a process that, over 25 years, deregulated more than 300,000 units — was overly burdensome and violated due process protections in the Constitution.

They said the law — adopted by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in June — amounted to illegal taking of private property.

Landlords also said the law deters landlords from making apartment repairs and improvements and will worsen the housing shortage and make market-rate apartments even more expensive.

Almost all of the rent-regulated apartments in the state are in New York City, which has about 1 million such units. Nassau County has about 9,000 regulated units, according to tenant activists. By law, rents on regulated apartments can increase only by a certain percentage each year.

“The law is not constitutional and punishes hard working tenants and small landlords alike. Allowing it to continue to harm New York is no longer acceptable,” Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord trade group, said in a statement.

The RSA and another group, Community Housing Improvement Program, filed the lawsuit in the federal Eastern District of New York. It names various state and New York City entities and officials as defendants.

RuthAnne  Visnauskas, Cuomo's commissioner for Housing and Community Renewal, declined to comment on the lawsuit, but said: "HCR has and will continue to both enforce the rent laws and investigate those who violate the law to protect tenants and the housing stock."

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) didn’t comment immediately. A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins declined to comment.

When the law passed, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said it would “give New Yorkers the strongest tenant protections in history. For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extends protections to tenants across the state.”

One of the most important changes in the rent law was the end of "vacancy decontrol," a process in which regulated apartments could be deregulated when the old tenants moved out. The provision had been fiercely guarded by Republicans who controlled the state Senate for years and by the real estate industry in every rent-law negotiation for more than two decades.

Democrats seized full control of the legislature in the 2018 elections and promised to focus on ending vacancy decontrol.

Legislative leaders cited the political shift in power in announcing the deal — which arguably marked the biggest loss in Albany for the powerful real estate lobby in decades.

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