Gov. Cuomo has put his weight behind reforms many tenant leaders wanted. Now the question is whether he can deliver those changes, and at what price.

Office of the Governor

Gov. Cuomo has put his weight behind reforms many tenant leaders wanted. Now the question is whether he can deliver those changes, and at what price.

For months tenant advocates have waited and wondered what Gov. Cuomo’s position on rent regulations would be. Now they’ve gone from wondering where the governor stands to fretting about whether he can deliver.

Over the weekend, an op-ed by Cuomo called for the state’s rent laws to be renewed.

Significantly, Cuomo pledged to hold a special session until “tenant protections” are extended and strengthened. Cuomo wrote of the need to end vacancy decontrol—where vacant apartments are withdrawn from regulation because rent exceeds a certain amount—and to reform the system of improvements landlords can make where tenants are forced to pay forever, long after initial investments have been recouped. He also called to “limit vacancy bonuses to ensure landlords aren’t rewarded financially for schemes to force tenants out. These should be foundational elements of any new rent regulation legislation.”

Cuomo’s support of tenants has been considered tepid at best, and his links to the real-estate industry are well-documented. Real Rent Reform, a coalition of tenant groups, said Cuomo was finally singing their tune. “What the Governor proposes … are exactly what tenants need. That is why they are the exact points we have been making for years as the minimum steps necessary to fix the worst loopholes in the rent laws.”

Whether those changes will actually be made depends on what Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Republican leader John Flanagan has out in negotiations as the clock ticks to rent regulations’ expiring next Monday. Those talks will likely concern not just rent regulations but also 421-a and Cuomo’s desire for an education tax credit.

Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal, long a pro-tenant leader in the lower house, says Cuomo will have no excuse if the changes he supports aren’t implemented. “With his abilities to be persuasive, he can deliver when he wants to like with same sex marriage,” she told City Limits. “It’s his state. He cannot blame anyone else if it doesn’t happen. He’s staked a claim.”

“There is a path to it. He has to not only say the right thing but do it,” she adds.

Rosenthal said she’d prefer that 421-a and the education credit not be negotiated in tandem with rent regulations.

Ava Farkas, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Housing, says in an email Cuomo’s political prestige is on the line.

“Honestly, not that long ago, the Governor without question called all the shots in Albany. Now key staff have left, his poll numbers are dropping, and more people are willing to publicly stand up to him,” she writes. “So in that context, his recent embrace of stronger rent laws is a bold but risky position to take if he’s anything less than serious about making it happen. If he delivers, he’s a hero to millions of tenants and he will have re-established his dominance over Albany. If he fails – especially after so publicly putting his brand on it – it tells that State and the political world that his time as the ultimate power broker is over.”

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