By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Thousands of artists living in illegal lofts from TriBeCa to the Bronx won sweeping new protections this week from Albany lawmakers.
The state Assembly and Senate voted to make permanent the Loft Law, which protects loft tenants from unfair rent hikes and eviction. The legislature also extended the law to protect tenants in hundreds of additional commercial and manufacturing buildings across the city.
New York first enacted the momentous Loft Law in 1982 to protect artists living illegally in industrial spaces, mostly in TriBeCa and SoHo.
The new Loft Law dramatically expands the protections to anyone who lived in a commercial loft for 12 months in 2008 or 2009. That means thousands of artists living in factories and warehouses from Brooklyn to the Bronx could now become rent-stabilized.
“This is a huge win for keeping the middle class in the city,” said Jean Grillo, 65, a TriBeCa playwright and loft tenant. “Thank God — it’s been a long time coming.”
About 600 loft buildings have become rent-stabilized in the past 30 years under the Loft Law, while hundreds of others are still inching through the process.
Until now, the Loft Law had only applied to tenants who moved into their lofts in the early 1980s, while those who moved in more recently had no protections.
“This is the first pro-tenant bill to come out of Albany in more than 20 years,” said Bill Hall, 61, a TriBeCa sculptor and co-chairman of the Lower Manhattan Loft Tenants advocacy group. “We’ve been trying to make this happen for years and years.”
In addition to protecting thousands of new tenants, the new Loft Law also offers more certainty for longtime tenants like Hall.
Past versions of the Loft Law always had an expiration date, and as that date approached, the tenants would worry that a delay in Albany could mean an eviction notice from their landlord. The new Loft Law will never expire.
Hall said the landlord of his Warren Street loft has delayed getting a residential certificate of occupancy, apparently hoping that the Loft Law will eventually go away. Now that the law is permanent, Hall is hopeful that his building will finally graduate into rent-stabilization.
Paul Sipos, 69, another TriBeCa loft tenant, said he always got anxious whenever the Loft Law came up for renewal, and he was glad to hear that the law would soon be permanent.
Sipos has lived in his Duane Street loft since 1979, back when an egg wholesaler operated out of the ground floor and a shop down the block smoked its own cheese. The pipes froze in the winter and Sipos and his wife went without water for months. When the city inspected the TriBeCa buildings, Sipos said the artists hid their beds and pretended they lived elsewhere.
“It was much quieter and safer than it is now,” said Sipos, who runs a TriBeCa company that ships artwork. “It was a great place to live.”
Governor Paterson is expected to sign the bill into law soon.