Tenants Target Sen. Golden to Strengthen Rent Laws

Bennett Baumer Mar 23, 2009

The statewide campaign to end vacancy decontrol and strengthen the rent laws is quickly coming to a head. Tenants groups targeted Republican South Brooklyn State Senator Marty Golden on Friday by holding a boisterous rally in front of his Fifth Avenue district office in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The rally featured two marching bands, including the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and a group of musicians from Make the Road New York. The assembled crowed pinned Golden and his staff inside their office all morning and afternoon, as participants reported seeing Golden entering the office earlier in the morning but they were unable to coax him outside to address the crowd of 150 tenants.

“We need [Golden] to cosponsor [the bill], so far he hasn’t given us any word,” Tom Murata a Bay Ridge resident since 1981 and a Tenants and Neighbors member said. “If you price the middle-class out of Brooklyn where are we all going to live? In the same basement apartment in Queens?”

Westchester State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the lead sponsor of the bill to repeal vacancy decontrol and thus far the bill has 24 cosponsors. If Golden were to sign onto the legislation he would join Queens Republican Frank Padavan, the lone GOP senator backing the bill.

Vacancy decontrol is the mechanism that landlords can take rent stabilized and controlled apartments out of regulation when there is a vacancy and the rent surpasses $2,000 a month. Former Republican Governor George Pataki, a Republican controlled State Senate and compliant Democratic Assembly passed the deregulation in 1997 after heavy landlord lobbying and campaign contributions. Since then Tenants and Neighbors estimates that 100,000 affordable rent regulated apartments became market rentals due to deregulation and condo/coop conversions.

“Many of our clients live in rent regulated apartments but they are not secure,” said Nina Valmonte, Associate Direct of Parish and Community Outreach and Services at Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens. “Once families leave apartments they can no longer afford, there are not many options.”

Valmonte is also a Bay Ridge resident. Catholic Charities assists tenants with rent arrears grants and runs other social service programs.

“The most dreaded option is a shelter,” she said.

Tenant advocates contend vacancy decontrol has contributed to increased landlord harassment because deregulation gives owners an economic incentive to evict tenants. Once evicted, landlords get an automatic 20 percent increase and then 1/40 of the cost of any renovations. Indypendent contributor Steve Wishnia reported on 1/40 renovation fraud in the last edition of The Indypendent.

The City Council will vote to renew the rent laws and pass resolutions to repeal vacancy decontrol and restore home rule to the city tomorrow at 1pm. State government has had power over the rent laws since 1971, a source of contention for council members, tenants and better government advocates as real estate interests fill upstate campaign confers to weaken the rent laws. These upstate rural and suburban politicians have little if any rent regulated tenants.

“Bay Ridge is a place where my daughter can get a decent education and I can afford the rent,” said Antonia Pizzichemi, a single-mother and Bay Ridge tenant. “Do we want a chic chic city?”

The crowd roared, “No!”

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