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State Legislature, Cuomo approve landmark tenant protection law

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks on Monday in

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo speaks on Monday in New York. Photo Credit: AP/Mark Lennihan

ALBANY — A landmark law to protect tenants statewide and foster affordable housing was passed by the State Legislature Friday and signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The floor debate included a rare emotional speech by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who grew up in New York City public housing. She said she saw through her childhood friends how vulnerable tenants can be to private sector landlords and how frightening that uncertainty can be for a child.

“Without stability in those essential things, you can’t possibly grow roots that will be strong,” said the Yonkers Democrat. “We don’t want people living in fear of not knowing that they can afford a space, or whether they can get the next space if that space is gone.”

The bill passed 36-26 along party lines in the Democratic-led Senate and 95-41 in the Assembly soon after. It is an extension of the rent law, which was due to expire Saturday.

Assemb. Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx) said his bill is a major win for tenants after an erosion of tenant rights in past legislation led by the former Republican majority of the Senate since the 1990s.

“The pendulum went too far years ago,” Dinowitz said. “This bill hopes to put the pendulum in the middle."

“Today, we start pushing back in the other direction,” said Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), deputy leader of the Democrats, who won the majority in last year's elections.

The law dramatically reduces the rent increases that can be imposed on tenants in rent-controlled apartments and places more mandates on landlords to make repairs and improvements without increasing rents. For the first time, the law also may apply to communities throughout the state with a shortage of apartments and mobile homes.

The bill is a departure from past extensions and revisions of the state rent law that governs the real estate industry, which has long been a major lobbying force and a top campaign contributor. The previous Republican Senate majority had secured repeated protections for landlords, who operate under a limited profit margin when they have rent-controlled apartments. Republicans had argued the best way to provide affordable housing was to make it more profitable for developers, with greater latitude to evict and avoid bad tenants.

“The most important part of this legislation is … that it’s a tectonic shift from the stranglehold of powerful special interests that have bought and sold members of this house,” said Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx). “People over money always wins.”

Democrats said the measure levels the field.

“We have waited too long, too much damage has happened” to tenants, said Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan). “But at least we can put a floor in to stop more harm from being done. This is one of the most important pieces of legislation that will pass in this house in a very, very long time.”

"I’m confident the measure passed today is the strongest possible set of reforms that the Legislature was able to pass and are a major step forward for tenants across New York," Cuomo said. 

Republicans, however, warned that it will dissuade landlords from making improvements to their properties while stifling the development of sorely needed affordable housing because the profit incentive will be capped.

“This is close to insanity,” said Assemb. Andrew Garbarino (R-Sayville). “Landowners are losing the right to their properties!”

“This will be politically popular, no doubt,” said Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-St. James). "But this is going to create … problems like we’ve never seen.”

With Yancey Roy

The landmark rent control law passed by the State Legislature Friday would:

  • Make the law “permanent,” ending the need to extend the measure every four to eight years.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Limit rent increases to 2 percent, from 6 percent, in New York City; and to 2 percent from 15 percent elsewhere.
  • Make unlawful eviction a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Allow all municipalities with a vacancy rate of 5 percent or less to be governed by the rent regulation law.

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