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Lawmakers Agree to 5-Day Extension of Rent-Control Regulations

By  Nikhita Venugopal and Jeff Mays | June 19, 2015 10:22am 

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to a five-day extension of New York's rent regulations late Thursday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers agreed to a five-day extension of New York's rent regulations late Thursday.
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Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

NEW YORK CITY — State lawmakers passed a five-day extension of New York's rent regulations that affect about 1 million apartments in the city, officials announced Thursday night. 

The laws, which determine how much landlords can charge for rent stabilized apartments, had expired at midnight Tuesday despite calls by both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to strengthen them.

De Blasio said last week that a failure to renew the rent regulations would be an "end to New York City as we have known it."

The mayor also said that the city's 3111 hotline has seen a "big uptick" in calls from renters who are fearful because the rent regulation laws have expired.

But the Assembly and Senate, along with Cuomo, agreed to continue talks toward a permanent solution, according to a joint statement from the governor, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

"There are important issues that still must be addressed and by working collaboratively, we remain confident that the 2015 legislative session will end with the passage of additional reforms," the statement read.

But in separate statements, Heastie, a Democrat, and Flanagan, a Republican, pointed the finger at one another.

"In May, the Assembly passed a package of rent laws to strengthen current regulations and protect tenants. Unfortunately, the Senate has failed to consider these sensible proposals, thus jeopardizing the safety and security of more than two million people," read Heastie's statement.

The Assembly bill calls for many of the changes de Blasio has been advocating for such as an end to charging renters for major capital improvements in perpetuity and an end to vacancy decontrol where an apartment leaves regulation once the rent reaches $2,500.

The Assembly legislation also called for a reduction of the so-called "vacancy bonus," which allows landlords to raise the rent on regulated apartments when they become empty.

The Assembly bill would reduce the increase by more than half to 7.5 percent from the 20 percent currently allowed on a two-year lease.

Flanagan said the Senate had passed an eight year extension of rent laws. However, many Democrats were not in favor of that legislation because it did not strengthen the laws and would add income verification for rent regulated tenants.

"The state Senate has already acted on legislation to extend New York City's current rent laws for eight years with provisions to enforce the intent of the law that ensure help to those who truly need it. Unfortunately, the Assembly has failed to pass this bill," Flanagan wrote.

"We continue to believe very strongly that our bill is the best approach to the city's affordable housing challenges," he added.

De Blasio said this week that a straight extension of the rent laws was unacceptable because many affordable units are leaving rent regulation under the current rules, sometimes with landlords using the "vacancy bonus," major capital improvements and vacancy decontrol as a way to push tenants out.

He cited the Wednesday arrest of a Brooklyn landlord charged with destroying an apartment building to force tenants out so that he could charge more rent.

"[E]ven with rent regulation not having expired, we have too many instances of not just harassment or displacement of tenants, but criminal acts in the name of displacing tenants for a profit. We know this problem exists, and it exists on a grand scale," de Blasio said Thursday.

The extension is retroactive to when the laws expired earlier this week and will last through Tuesday night. The Legislature is adjourned until Tuesday but negotiations are expected to continue over the weekend.

Other pieces of legislation important to New York City such as the mayoral control of schools and the fate of the 421-a tax break also remain unresolved.