By Denis Slattery
Legislative leaders have reached an 11th hour deal on a package of bills that will mark a sea change in tenant protections and rent regulations affecting about half of the all apartments in the city.
The agreement comes just four days before the current laws expire.
"These reforms give New Yorkers the strongest tenant protections in history," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said in a joint statement. "For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state."
Democrats, in control of both the Senate and Assembly for the first time in nearly a decade, have spent weeks mulling over a nine-bill package that would radically reform regulations in favor of renters.
Gov. Cuomo, who just weeks ago said he would veto any bill that he did not help negotiate, said he was not involved in direct talks with the Legislative leaders.
"There's no reason for a three-way negotiation," he said. "I will sign whatever the Senate can pass. I'll sign whatever the Assembly can pass. The best bill they can pass I will sign."
While advocates called for Cuomo's exclusion -- accusing him of being beholden to the real estate industry -- the governor spent the past week hammering Senate Dems over the down-to-the-wire nature of their deliberations and repeatedly casting doubt on their ability to pass progressive reforms.
The package includes a majority of the actions that tenant advocates demanded, including making the rent regulation system permanent and allowing municipalities outside of the city to opt into rent regulation.
Bills included will end the vacancy bonus, which allows landlords to increase rents by 20% whenever a regulated unit is empty and jack up rents until the apartment is no longer covered by regulations.
Currently, about one million residential units in the city and its suburbs are regulated under the state's rent control or stabilization programs. How much rents for those units can rise each is determined by the Rent Guidelines Board.
Preferential rents, which are slightly lower than market rate, will be guaranteed for as long as a tenant occupies an apartment, preventing landlords from jacking up rents.
Also included is language tightening co-op and condo conversion laws, making it harder for landlords to turn buildings into condominiums.
Tenant advocates applauded the measures.
"The Senate and the Assembly have come together with a proposal to confront decades of injustices in New York State's tenant protection system," said Cea Weaver, campaign director of the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance.
A measure popular with progressive advocates that would have barred landlords from passing on the cost of building and individual apartment upgrades, improvements, maintenance and operations to tenants is not included.
Instead, the omnibus bill cuts the amount owners can increase rents to cover the building improvements from 6% a year to 2%. Individual apartment improvements will be capped at $15,000 per 15 years. The state Department of Housing and Community Renewal would annually inspect a quarter of all apartment buildings where landlords claimed improvements were made.
Landlord groups slammed the proposals as unfair to owners and predicted economic upheaval if they pass.
"The rent package currently under consideration by the legislature would devastate New York City's housing stock and all but wipe out small, local property owners," said Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program,
HCR will also be required to submit an annual report on the programs and activities undertaken by the Office of Rent Administration and the Tenant Protection Unit regarding "implementation, administration and enforcement of the rent regulation system."
Another item dropped was the controversial 'good cause' measure that would have prohibited landlords not currently covered by rent regulations from evicting tenants without a valid reason such as non-payment of rent or property damage. It would also have barred landlords from evicting tenants if they could not pay an "unconscionable" rent increase, defined as more than 50% above the local rate of inflation.
The reforms are slated to be officially unveiled Wednesday. Lawmakers must then wait three days before voting on the measures and sending the package to the governor.
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