A blue dawn for rent regs in Dem Senate?

In September, former City Councilmember Robert Jackson, joined by Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and City Councilmember Ben Kallos, claimed victory in his primary challenge to incumbent state Senator Marisol Alcántara. Photo by Sydney Pereira

BY SYDNEY PEREIRA | For the first time in a decade, Democrats will soon control the New York State Senate, holding a solid majority of 39 out of its 63 seats.

Democrats swept to power with wins in last month’s general election. Among the most notable victories were those over former members of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight senators faulted for handing control to Republicans in recent years. Albany’s new political landscape could mean major changes in protections for residential tenants.

Tenant protections to close loopholes and strengthen rent regulation have repeatedly passed in the state Assembly — but never the state Senate, much less with meaningful discussion.

“This is really tabula rasa, in a way, for the rent-reform campaign because nobody’s had to take positions really,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman. “It was a nonstarter, and most of these deals were done behind closed doors.”

State Senator Brian Kavanagh echoed Hoylman.

“For the first time in many, many years, we’re going to be able to have a serious conversation where we’re not being held hostage by Republicans that control the Senate and are dependent on the landlords to continue to keep the majority,” said Kavanagh, who represents much of Lower Manhattan.

Policies passed in the Assembly — such as ending vacancy decontrol and the vacancy bonus, strengthening preferential rent, reforming major capital improvements — are top goals for some Democratic state senators, particularly since rent laws expire next June.

“If you ask me, there’s no way we don’t deal with housing regulation before June 15 because that’s a big date in the sky that cannot be extended or ignored,” said state Senator Liz Krueger. “I think there is a giant need out there of people calling for us to take action and a new Senate Democratic majority conference hungry to deliver on these issues.”

Some politicians, including Krueger, Kavanagh, Hoylman and state Senator-elect Robert Jackson, support repealing the Urstadt Law of 1971, which prevents New York City from determining its own rules about rent regulation. But that option would be an entirely different pathway, one that Krueger said is an option that would need to be discussed further with advocates.

“If we were to pass ‘Urstadt repeal,’ we basically wouldn’t be passing most of the other rent and tenant protection bills that advocates talk about,” said Krueger, who has sponsored Urstadt repeal for years.

“In real life, it’s sort of an ‘either or,’ ” she said. “Either you go down the path of Urstadt repeal and it all falls back to the City of New York to make its own decisions; or you accept the existing reality that the state sets the regulation — but then you go to work to make sure you’ve actually improved [the laws] on behalf of people living in rental housing.”

Former Councilmember Jackson — who unseated Manhattan’s lone I.D.C. member, state Senator Marisol Alcántara — is confident the new Democratic Senate can pass legislation to protect tenants. The strong new majority of 39 Democrats was a “pleasant surprise,” and with Brooklyn state Senate Simcha Felder — a Democrat who has caucused with Republicans — the Dems would have 40 of 63 seats.

Jackson hopes Governor Andrew Cuomo would sign bills passed in both chambers on tenant protections. Last month, Cuomo signaled he would support ending vacancy decontrol, the New York Post reported.

“I would hope that the governor understands that there’s over a million [regulated] renters in New York City that are depending on him and that are struggling to survive,” Jackson said.

Since 2005, the city has lost over 88,000 rent-regulated units and 425,000 apartments renting for $900 or less, according to a recent report from City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

With myriad priorities expected to pile up, Hoylman said, “We may not fix the housing crisis in one session in Albany, but we can take steps to alleviate it.”

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