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Rent Regulation Reprieve Shot Down by State Senate

By DNAinfo Staff on June 15, 2011 5:50pm  | Updated on June 16, 2011 4:25pm

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — The State Senate shot down an emergency measure that was meant to extend rent regulations while negotiations on a permanent solution continued.

Just hours earlier, the State Assembly had voted to give residents living in the city's 1 million rent regulated apartments a brief reprieve - pushing back the expiration of the rules until Friday while they hammer out a deal.

Late Wednesday, the Assembly agreed to pass the short term extension, which will expire at 3 p.m. Friday.

"The Assembly Majority is committed to keeping housing affordable for more than two million New Yorkers and remains focused on expanding and strengthening those laws," said speaker Sheldon Silver in a statement.

But the Republican-controlled Senate then voted 43-14 against the measure, with Democrats in the body rejecting the idea of a short-term compromise, according to the Wall Street Journal.

"Our members have said from the start: extension is not enough—we need to strengthen regulations," said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, according to the paper.

The rent laws then lapsed just after midnight Thursday.

Legislators have been telling residents to remain calm as they work out an 11th-hour deal to maintain rent protections that allow for leases at below-market rates.

Republicans want the laws to stay the same, while Democrats are pushing for increased regulations. The temporary extension that was rejected had been proposed by the Republicans.

"New Yorkers should know the facts. There would be no short-term emergency," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Even if the laws lapse for a short period of time... there will not be a significant increase in rent levels or disruption in the availability of affordable housing."

Ibrahim Khan, deputy chief of staff for State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, said his office has been receiving calls from frantic constituents from the Upper West Side through Washington Heights throughout the day.

"Folks are obviously very, very concerned in our district," he said.

But, he said residents have nothing to fear unless the regulations lapse for several weeks or months.

"This is not something they have to worry about," he said. "People will still be protected."

This wouldn't be the first time the rules have expired.

In 1997, the clock struck midnight with no agreement reached. But the regulations were renewed days later, retroactively, with few reported problems at the time.

And activists say the wait is worth it for a better bill, which they're confident they can pass.

"The fact that the deadline may pass is outrageous and the legislators are playing brinkmanship. But that does not mean we will not renew the laws," said Mario Mazzoni, director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, which has been one of the participants in the REAL Rent Reform Campaign.

More than 300,000 city rent-regulated apartments have been lost over the past 18 years, advocates say.

Tensions have been growing over recent weeks, as advocates rallied and erected tent cities across Manhattan.

State Sen. Bill Perkins and Bronx Assemblyman Jose Rivera were arrested Monday for protesting in Albany, according to reports.

The Senate is also scrambling to pass a bill legalizing gay marriage before the legislative session ends Monday, June 20.

But Cuomo said Wednesday he will keep the legislature in session — in a special session, if necessary — "until the people's business is done."

Not renewing the laws would cause "nothing less than a housing crisis in the state," he said.

Advocates are set to rally at 5 p.m. at Cuomo’s Office on Third Avenue in favor of the rent reforms.