After state legislature fails to pass matching bills, New York City rent laws are set to expire

By LOUIS FLORES

With New York City's rent laws expiring at midnight Monday, the Democratic Party-controlled New York State Assembly passed a temporary measure, extending by two days laws that govern the rent control and rent stabilization of New York City's key affordable apartment programs.

However, the Republican Party-controlled New York State Senate passed a bill proposing an eight-year extension on rent laws, but the GOP bill was loaded with poisonous provisions that were meant to weaken the rent laws.

The lack of an agreement from both legislative houses meant that New York's rent laws will expire without renewal at midnight Monday evening.

John Fisher, the founder of the tenant advocacy Web site TenantNet, was interviewed on WBAI 99.5 FM last week.  He predicted that any expiration of rent laws would be cured by a retroactive bill passed and signed into law in due course.

"There's been a lot of fear out there :  What will happen if the rent laws expire ?" Mr. Fisher said, adding that this fear had come and passed before, "And we've seen this twice before, back in 1997.  We saw it again in 2003.  The rent laws expired.  Nothing happened.  And people were afraid that they were going to be evicted from their apartments.  That just isn't going to happen."

Mr. Fisher noted that rent-regulated apartments are governed by lease agreements, which will continue to be in effect, even though the rent laws may have temporarily expired.  Mr. Fisher also said that for newly-written leases, a 90-day requirement may give tenants another form of a legal buffer.  Housing courts would also step in to prevent evictions solely based on the temporary lapse of rent laws, Mr. Fisher said, essentially giving tenants short-term protections from the housing crisis created by Albany officials.

"Generally, what has happened in the past is that a few days later, the legislature might pass the laws.  At that point, it will be retroactive," Mr. Fisher said.

Public Advocate Letitia James (D-New York) has established a hotline at (212) 669-7250 for tenants having questions about the impact of the lapse of rent laws. 

Predictably, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York), Democrats in the State Assembly, and Republicans in the State Senate are blaming each other over the failure to timely renew the rent laws, with Governor Cuomo's abdication of leadership noted by Jimmy Vielkind, a reporter for Capital New York.  Separately, on social media, tenant anger was directed at Assemblymember Keith Wright (D-Harlem), who chairs the Assembly committee on housing, and other state legislators for having failed to renew or strengthen the rent laws.

Largely overlooked in the political impotence by Albany officials on rent laws was that the state legislature also failed to renew the controversial 421-a tax abatement program, which has been the focus of a reported federal investigation being led by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, the nation's top federal prosecutor for New York's southern district.  The role of the controversial tax breaks may also figure into the federal corruption charges facing Assemblymember Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and State Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre). 

In the days leading up to the legislative failure to renew the rent laws, Governor Cuomo had, at times, attempted to shift blame to U.S. Attorney Bharara, whereas Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) had laid the groundwork to blame Governor Cuomo

As predicted by Mr. Fisher, the tenant advocate, the state legislature will likely renew the rent laws in the days to come.  However, what remains to be seen is whether the state legislature will strengthen the rent laws.  Some tenant advocates had called for an end to vacancy decontrol, whereby landlords are able to deregulate apartments once the rent on a vacated regulated apartment reaches a certain threshold.  

The state legislature also failed to renew or modify the 421-a tax abatement program.  Reportedly, U.S. Attorney Bharara has received court approvals to instigate wire taps on lawyers and lobbyists, making it appear that federal prosecutors are keen at expanding their probes into political and campaign corruption possibly involving the real estate industry. 

Wealthy developers and landlords have been generous campaign contributors to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and state legislators, including, as reported by Progress Queens, Assemblymember Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside).