“Gov. Cuomo delivered a sharp blow to landlords Monday by pledging an end to vacancy decontrol, a 24-year-old policy that has removed 150,000 apartments from rent regulations.
Tenant advocates have been warning about the vacancy law since it was passed in 1994 under a Republican governor and a GOP-controlled state Senate.
But the entire state government — including the Senate and governor’s office — will be in Democratic hands next year, with newly elected progressives pushing for much stronger tenant protections.
Cuomo responded with a hasty “yes” when asked on WNYC radio whether he would sign a law to abolish vacancy decontrol if it passes the Legislature.
“One of the big pieces in an affordable-housing program is going to be a reform of the rent regulations,” Cuomo said.
“It doesn’t provide additional units of affordability to the extent we need. I still believe in production and supply,” he added. “But reforming the rent-regulation system, especially vacancy decontrol, can make a major difference.”
Vacancy decontrol was implemented under GOP then-Gov. George Pataki. At the time, Republicans sympathetic to landlords had leverage by threatening not to renew the entire rent-stabilization law, which was expiring.
Landlords have the right to remove apartments from the stabilization system if the rent reaches $2,733.75 and they become vacant.
The current law covering about 1 million rent-stabilized apartments expires in June.
Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association representing landlords, said the tougher tenant protections would end up subsidizing wealthy residents in rent-stabilized apartments.
“There should be a means test. I don’t understand why the governor would want to protect tenants who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year,” Strasburg said. “There are rent-stabilized tenants who own second homes.”
Tenant activists weren’t ready to celebrate just yet.
“We have to hold our friends in both houses of the Legislature accountable,” said Mike McKee of Tenants PAC.
McKee added he doesn’t trust Cuomo, who didn’t make overhauling the rent regulations a priority during his first two terms.
“He is guilty until proven innocent,” McKee said.
Many of the progressive newcomers coming to Albany ran on platforms to reform the rent laws.
Rent regulations were a key topic at the recent Somos post-election political conference in Puerto Rico, where a top state official said the $2,733.75 threshold for vacancy decontrol might be lifted — but didn’t say it would be eliminated completely.
“The conversation has already heated up, in a good way, about four topics: preferential rent, vacancy bonuses, the vacancy decontrol threshold and major capital improvements,” said Betsy Mallow, executive deputy commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal.”