Legislators Call for Saving and Strengthening Expiring Rent and Eviction Protections in State Budget

Legislators: Rent law extension, repeal of vacancy decontrol, and other improvements needed now
March 17, 2011

Albany – With critical rent and eviction protection laws set to expire soon, 91 members of the State Senate and Assembly called upon Governor Andrew Cuomo to take immediate and decisive action to extend and strengthen the laws in the State budget, due to be enacted by April 1st. In a letter sent to Governor Cuomo Tuesday and released today, the legislators – representing virtually all of the 2.5 million tenants protected by the laws in New York City, Westchester, and Nassau County – petitioned the Governor, a former federal Housing Secretary, to make housing affordability for middle-class and working New Yorkers a priority in an otherwise bleak budget.

The lawmakers expressed concern that enacting the budget without addressing the expiration of the rent laws will play into the hands of landlords and their allies who routinely seek giveaways that inflict hardship on tenants. Previously when the laws were set to expire, negotiations came down to the final hours before expiration and landlords were able to wield their influence, and the threat of letting the laws lapse entirely, to severely weaken them. The legislators sought to make clear that a repeat of that outcome is not acceptable this year.

As so many middle-class and working New Yorkers are hit hard by the current economic downturn and federal, State, and local budget cuts, the legislators are more committed than ever to undoing the anti-tenant provisions inserted in recent years. In the letter, the lawmakers point out that the most devastating of the loopholes that have eroded the affordable housing stock in recent years has been the “vacancy decontrol” provision that allows landlords to take apartments out of the rent regulation system and charge exorbitant rents. An estimated 300,000 affordable apartments have been lost in this way since this loophole was inserted into the law. The lawmakers say that this loophole in particular must be repealed.

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh said, “We’ve seen the displacement of families and the destruction of communities that rapacious landlords and real estate speculators cause when there is lax regulation, not only in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, which I’m privileged to represent, but across New York. We know what needs to be done to stand up for tenants and now is the time to do it.”

“There is no better way to illustrate that we are committed to ending Albany’s culture of dysfunction than renewing and strengthening our rent laws now, instead of in June when over two million tenants will be frightened for their homes,” said Assembly Mitchell-Lama Housing Subcommittee Chair Linda B. Rosenthal. “I appreciate Governor Cuomo’s willingness to listen to the priorities of the Assembly Majority conference and affirm his desire to strengthen the Emergency Tenant Protection Act as part of an on-time budget agreement. In a historically challenging fiscal year, strengthening our rent laws and ending the destructive policy of vacancy decontrol that has led to the loss of over 300,000 units of affordable housing is the best method of ensuring there is still a place for the middle class in New York City.”

“Raising rents on middle-class and poor families that are already struggling in this tough economy is tantamount to a crushing tax that will drive New Yorkers from their homes,” said Senator Adriano Espaillat, Ranking Member on the Senate Housing Committee. “That’s why I have introduced legislation strengthening rent control and other crucial regulations that protect tenants and stabilize communities across New York. As elected officials, leaders, and grassroots activists, we stand united in fighting to preserve the millions of homes that might be lost if rent regulations are allowed to expire on June 15th.”

“I am proud to stand with such a strong coalition of elected officials in calling for Governor Cuomo to renew and strengthen New York State’s Rent Regulation laws as part of the budget process,” said Senator Liz Krueger. “In order to ensure that the millions of hardworking low- and middle-income New Yorkers living in rent regulated units are able to remain in their homes, we must immediately close the loopholes that have plagued the rent regulation system for far too long. Families know they cannot push off until tomorrow what they have to do today, and neither should their government.”

Senator Daniel Squadron said, “The budget is the last best chance at renewing and improving our rent laws. More than a million New Yorkers depend on rent regulations to keep them in their homes, and New York’s neighborhoods depend on the stability that our affordable housing laws provide. We can’t risk tenant protections by letting them linger until the frenzied end of the legislation session, when they are on the verge of expiration. We must extend and improve the rent laws by the time the budget is passed, to avoid the devastation and chaos that would result if the laws expired. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that we protect tenants throughout New York.”

“It is crucial that we not only renew rent protections law, but that we strengthen them. We must preserve affordable housing for New Yorkers. The current laws favor landlords. It’s time we balance the scales and help insure that New Yorkers can afford to stay in our wonderful city,” stated Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.