DUELING RENT DEPOSIT DELIRIUM

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The bell has rung on round three of the landlord-tenant tussle over mandatory rent deposits in housing court. On Friday, for the third year in a row, Republican State Senator Vincent Leibell (from George Pataki’s own Putnam County) introduced a rent deposit bill into the senate housing committee for what legislative staffers say will be a rapid passage.

The bill, deplored by tenant activists, would require tenants in housing court to make a deposit of rent their landlord claims they owe–before their case could be adjourned or postponed. If the tenant fails to make the deposit, he or she would face eviction.

From the other side of the state legislature comes a bill that is the mirror opposite of Leibell’s. Sponsored by Bronx Democratic Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, it mandates that landlords deposit money on any judgments against them by the state regulators before they make an appeal. Dinowitz says the bill would prevent landlords from pursuing drawn-out appeals on rent overcharge rulings, helping them avoid paying judgments for years at a stretch.

“They want mandatory rent deposits? Let’s give them mandatory landlord deposits,” said Dinowitz.

The requirement of tenant rent deposits in housing court is likely to be a pivotal piece of any deal on rent regulations this spring. Last year, Bronx Democratic leader Roberto Ramirez unsuccessfully backed a version of the Leibell bill in the lower house, but no such version has yet cropped up this year. Two pro-landlord bills currently in the judiciary and housing committees are unlikely to move, tenant leaders predict. “If [Assembly Speaker] Shelly Silver puts a bill into the rules committee, that’s when I’ll get worried and expect a deal,” said Angelita Anderson of the City-Wide Task Force on Housing Court, a tenant advocacy group.