Rent rules top agenda as legislative deadline nears
Time is running out for the more than 2 million tenants covered by New York City’s rent laws while a deal to renew the regulations continues to elude New York state lawmakers.
The law governing the rent regulations will expire Monday if lawmakers do not act to extend them. Democratic lawmakers from New York City want the rules strengthened, but their plan faces opposition in the Republican-led Senate. A vote to renew the rent law is still expected, though the length of the extension remains unsettled and big changes to the policy appear unlikely.
The rent laws are the most significant of several outstanding issues facing lawmakers before they are scheduled to adjourn their 2015 session on Wednesday. A key real estate development tax break also expires this month and must be renewed if it is to continue. Several other measures await votes, including bills to address campus sexual assault and ban the sale of toys with potentially toxic chemicals.
“This is just unacceptable,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Sunday regarding the lack of a deal on extending the rent rules. “There’s over 2 million New Yorkers right now who woke up this morning not knowing what was going to happen to their future because Albany is not acting.”
Waiting until the last days and hours of the session to cast votes on critical items is typical in Albany, but this year the work is complicated by a rash of corruption arrests that have highlighted the Capitol’s backroom culture.
Negotiations continued through the weekend as lawmakers looked for a way to resolve the session’s thorniest issues:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote to landlords Sunday threatening that the state would use “every tool at its disposal” to fight landlords who try to take advantage of tenants if the rules expire Monday without being renewed.
The Democratic governor’s letter noted that landlords are required to give tenants notice before raising rents or evicting them, and that any extension of the law would be made retroactive if lawmakers can’t agree to a deal by Monday’s deadline.
“Landlords who improperly attempt to use any brief lapse in the rent stabilization laws to gouge tenants on rents, engage in deceptive business practices, or threaten tenants with eviction due to the lapse, will face enforcement actions to the full extent of the law,” Cuomo wrote.
Legislation introduced in the Senate late Friday would extend the rules by eight years — but also tighten the rules on verifying that tenants in a rent-stabilized unit meet income eligibility requirements.
In a statement released Sunday, Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan of Long Island said any renewal of the laws “must include meaningful and systemic reforms which eliminate the abuses that exist.”
Cuomo said the proposal is unacceptable because it “poses new hurdles for tenants and it reduces tenant protections.”
The state Assembly voted last month to extend the rent stabilization rules by four years and strengthen the regulations by making it harder for landlords to increase rent on vacant, rent-regulated units. Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said Sunday in a statement that “only the Senate is standing in the way” of passing stronger rent laws.
Heastie also called on the Senate and Cuomo to avoid the temptation to make rent negotiations subject to a grand end-of-session bargain involving unrelated legislative proposals.
Lawmakers could vote Monday to extend the rent law for a short period of time — months, perhaps — to give them more time to hash out a compromise.
“I hate it,” Assemblyman Keith Wright, D-Harlem, said when asked his views about the idea of a six-month renewal. “It would be a total abdication of our responsibility.”
Also linked to the debate over rent stabilization is a real estate tax break that saved New York City developers more than $1 billion last year. The incentive also expires on Monday. De Blasio wants to tweak the program to require developers to include more affordable units — a proposal that’s been criticized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A straight extension of the law is looking more and more likely.
CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT
One of Cuomo’s top priorities for the year is a bill to impose a new sexual assault policy on the state’s private universities. The policy — which was implemented at public colleges last year — includes a new definition of sexual consent requiring clear, affirmative agreement between sexual partners. It also sets out a victim’s bill of rights and new training for law enforcement, students and faculty.
The bill has been hung up over concerns that it might create unintended consequences, but Cuomo said he is optimistic a deal can be reached.
“I would be very, very disappointed if we didn’t get it done,” Cuomo said last week. “I’m pushing very hard.”
Cuomo also wants lawmakers to end the state’s practice of automatically prosecuting and incarcerating 16- and 17-year-old offenders as adults. Currently only New York and North Carolina have such policies. But the proposal worries some local officials who say it could lead to sharply higher costs for juvenile detention and staffing.
MIXED MARTIAL ARTS
New York is now the only state to prohibit professional mixed martial arts bouts, a distinction those involved in the sport have long tried to end. The latest effort to legalize MMA bouts emerged last week. In response to critics who say it is too violent and dangerous, supporters included in the legislation a fund to help cover the medical costs of fighters with brain injuries.
Legislation to ban the use of microbeads has passed the Assembly but not the Senate. The beads are commonly found in cosmetics and hygiene products and are a leading cause of plastic pollution in lakes and rivers.
A bill to phase out the use of certain chemicals in toys also awaits a Senate vote. The bill, which has passed the Assembly, is opposed by toy manufacturers who say federal regulations are sufficient.
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