Bronx Pols Push Cuomo On Rent Reform; Jeff Klein’s Name Absent

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The following story appeared in this week's issue of the Norwood News.

By Jeanmarie Evelly

A number of local elected officials are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to renew and strengthen rent regulation laws, in favor of renters, as part of his budget negotiations with the legislature this month.

Last week, about 90 lawmakers signed a letter to the governor pressing the issue, which requested that he not only renew the existing Emergency Tenant Protection Act that expires this spring but that he include provisions to repeal vacancy decontrol — the law that lets landlords hike rents of stabilized apartments once tenants vacate them, essentially deregulating the city’s housing market.

State Senator Jeffrey Klein

Every Bronx state representative put his or her name on the letter with the exception of one: State Sen. Jeff Klein, whose district covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester. Klein, who recently formed a four-member Independent Caucus among centrist Senate Democrats, has been a target of housing advocates’ campaigns in the past, criticized for his inaction on pro-tenant legislation and for receiving substantial campaign contributions from landlord and real estate groups.

“Jeff Klein is an operative for the real estate lobby,” said Michael McKee, of the Tenants Political Action Committee. “He works behind the scenes to make sure that pro-tenant legislation does not pass.”

Klein’s camp, however, said that the senator was never given the letter to sign.
“We don’t have a record of receiving the letter,” said spokesman Rich Azzopardi.When asked where Klein stood on the issue of vacancy decontrol, Azzopardi said the senator would support the legislation if it came up for a vote.

“We’re not opposed to having these issues in the budget,” he said. “If the bills come to the floor, he’ll vote for them.”

But housing advocates say Klein’s history indicates otherwise. In 2008, his name was absent from another letter of support signed by Senate Democrats at the time to push for the repeal of vacancy decontrol, according to an article in the New York Times.

“He has not really been a strong advocate of tenants,” said Mary Tek, of the advocacy group Tenants & Neighbors. “I think he thinks he has a lot of homeowners in his district.”

But Klein’s 34th State Senate District has approximately 24,600 rent-regulated apartment units in the New York City portions alone, Tek said, all of which stand to become deregulated in June if the Emergency Tenant Protection Act is not renewed.

Advocates have been throwing their support behind legislation known as the Onmnibus Rent Bill, introduced in the Assembly this year by Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The bill would renew existing rent laws but also repeal vacancy decontrol, re-regulate hundred of thousands of apartments that have been de-stabilized over the years and raise the minimum amount of rent at which landlords can de-regulate apartments.

The bill has the support of a number of local lawmakers, though Klein has not signed on as a sponsor, and it still faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled State Senate—which is why advocates and lawmakers who support it are pushing Cuomo to include it in the budget, which is due April 1.

“We don’t have enough leverage [in Albany],” McKee said. “We are going to be in serious trouble if we don’t get this in the budget.”

Cuomo said recently that he’s open to including rent regulation in his budget negotiations, but did not specify in what form.

“The devil is in the details,” Tek explained. “We need to really nail the governor down on what he means.”