A partisan fight in state Senate Wednesday night allowed New York City’s rent control law to expire at least temporarily, while threatening a bill to cap property taxes statewide.
The practical result of the brinksmanship is uncertain. Negotiations are expected to resume Thursday and the end of the legislative session isn’t until Monday.
But as of midnight Wednesday night, the more than 1 million tenants in and around New York City benefiting from lower rents to protect the middle class were no longer covered by the city’s famous rent control program. Still, tenants won’t likely face any action by landlords if a new measure to extend the law can be negotiated. Years ago, lapses of a few days didn’t hurt tenants.
The Assembly majority led by New York City Democrats and Gov. Andrew Cuomo insist that rent control law needs to be bolstered. Supporters of a stronger rent control law say the current law has loopholes that have forced thousands of families to pay much higher rents. The Senate’s majority led by Long Island and upstate Republicans want to extend the existing law, which could benefit landlords.
But extending and improving the rent control law is tied to approval of a statewide property tax cap sought by the upstate and Long Island Republicans under a deal struck by Cuomo, who supports both measures.
Cuomo and legislative leaders have twice guaranteed approval of the 2-percent annual cap on local property tax growth as a major political victory. But that bill is, as Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said, “inextricably” tied to the rent control law.
Senate Democrats, however, refused to support the Republicans’ bill to extend the rent control program and tried unsuccessfully to force the GOP majority to consider the Democratic proposal to improve the program. Instead, Republicans let their bill fail, 14-43, and the 1946 law lapsed at midnight.
Democratic Sen. Diane Savino on Wednesday night called the upstate vs. downstate floor fight “the worst of political games” minutes before the bill expired.
“The last time there was a short-term lapse in the rent laws, no tenants lost their homes,” said Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran. “The real doomsday scenario is if rent laws aren’t strengthened.”
In the floor fight, Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos accused the Democrats of hypocrisy, but said negotiations will continue.
“Obviously,” Skelos said on the floor to Democrats, “you are looking to kill rent regulations in New York City and if that is the decision you are going to make, we’ll join you in that decision.”
Republican Sen. Michael Nozzolio of Monroe County said he wanted to “thank every member of the Democratic caucus because ending rent control is something I believe should have happened for years.”
Nozzolio called rent control a “socialistic program … that is one of the most government-controlled economic enterprises in this country.”
Democratic Sen. Jose Serrano of the Bronx said rent control is critical for the average family it serves that makes $36,000 a year.
“I don’t know why there needs to be two sides in these terrible attacks I hear tonight,” Serrano said. “We will have a city of New York that is completely unaffordable.”