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Brooklyn Senator's Track Record On Tenant Rights Questioned by Critics

By Gwynne Hogan | September 1, 2016 2:57pm
 State Senator Martin Malave Dilan is seeking reelection this fall against opponent Debbie Medina.
State Senator Martin Malave Dilan is seeking reelection this fall against opponent Debbie Medina.
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NORTH BROOKLYN — State Senator Martin Dilan is asking voters to reelect him this September for another chance to push through legislation strengthening tenants rights, but critics say he hasn't always been a fair housing advocate and question why he accepted donations from top city developers.

Dilan's legislation, which has already failed to make it out of committee three times, would make it a felony for landlords to harass rent regulated tenants by sabotaging their apartments to force them to leaveThe incumbent also cosponsored a series of reforms to strengthen tenant rights.

"I have supported all the bills for tenant protections — every single bill that has come before the Senate that had anything to do with tenant protections and affordable units," Dilan said in a recent interview.

Dilan blames the fact that his bill hasn't made it out of committee on the Republican controlled New York Senate. He's hoping the chamber will swing to the Democrats come January.

"That's going to be my top priority it terms of protecting tenants in affordable housing," Dilan said.

Critics of the senator, an ally of Vito Lopez who's held his seat since 2002, pointed out donations he'd taken from developers over the years, as evidence that he hasn't been a true tenant ally.

Dilan is "taking money from real estate," said his opponent Debbie Medina, who is currently vying for Dilan's senate seat on the Sept. 13 primary. "These are the people that he takes money from."

"I'm still fighting for my community, I'm still poor, I'm still begging for money," said Medina, a long-time tenant organizer at Los Sures, who's also making tenant issues the focal point of her campaign. 

This election cycle at least $8,000, or six percent of the $127,841 of contributions to Dilan's campaign, came from real estate interests, campaign finance records show.

He received $5,000 from an LLC linked to the Durst Organization, $1,500 from the Rent Stabilization Association and $1,000 from Neighborhood Preservation — two landlord-funded political action committees — since he won reelection two years ago.

CEB Realty Corp and the Real Estate Board of New York both donated $250 to Dilan's campaign, campaign finance records show.

Though 60 percent of his donations came from a slew of other political action committees and teachers, school administrators, transit workers and police unions.

Around 15 percent, or $20,000, of the $127,841, Dilan took in this election cycle came from personal donations.

At least one tenant advocate found Dilan's housing rights stance at odds with his prior legislative history.

A vacancy decontrol law, which Dilan voted for while in the city council in 1994, empowers landlords to empty out their rent stabilized apartments, because they can either legally deregulate them (if they make improvements that bring the rent over $2,700) or illegally do so if new renters simply don't ask, Michael McKee, the treasurer of Tenants PAC.

"Marty said to us twice on two separate occasions, 'I will never vote for vacancy decontrol, you have my word,'" McKee said. "And then he voted for it."

Vacancy decontrol is the main reason apartments lose their rent-stabilized status, according to reports from the city's Rent Guidelines Board and 103,986 apartments that the city knows of have lost their stabilization status this way.

Dilan defended his position as a friend of the tenant, dismissing the 1994 vote as ancient history.

“The record clearly shows Senator Dilan has long fought for greater tenant protections and affordable housing options," Graham Parker said. "A 22-year-old vote, however opponents portray it, doesn’t change that fact.

Dilan's opponent Medina got the backing of many pro-tenant organizations, though she lost some key endorsements after she came forward about abusing her son with a belt when he was a teenager.

She declined to comment further for this story.

Dilan boasts a perfect attendance record for 2016, present for all 57 sessions.

He supported $15 minimum wage and paid family family leave two of Albany's big accomplishments this session. He chairs the senate's Transportation Committee.