The rent is too damned high

Let there be no mistake — even if it’s not against the law, a lot of what the New York State Legislature does is morally corrupt. Almost every case we see can be examined through the lens of “who gave what to get what.” To some degree, the Legislature has always been a house of ill repute. You pay, you get, and if you don’t pay, you are far less likely to get.

Let’s examine the matter of rent stabilization and rent control in New York City and a few other smaller places. This is a huge issue for a lot of New Yorkers. I have two college professor friends who chose to retire rather than face losing their rent stabilized apartment because they were making too much money. Both were great at their jobs but their apartment came first.

Landlords make a lot of money — in some cases, they make out like bandits.

For years, the landlords have been giving big to political campaigns. They have given a great deal to Governor Cuomo’s political efforts. They have also given to members of both houses of the Legislature, with a tremendous extra effort to the Senate Republicans. It’s no secret that the Republicans in the New York State Senate are much closer to those well-heeled interests than to the Democrats in the Assembly who, trust me, have their own flaws. Thus, it was not unexpected to see the Senate Republicans pitching in to help the landlords “decontrol” many of the apartments that are rented in New York. Year after year, they have been making it tougher and tougher to help those whose apartments fall under the rent regulations. This time around, when the rent stabilization/control law was up for renewal, a battle royal ensued. The Senate Republicans wanted new provisions to help the landlords decontrol some of the rent-controlled apartments, while the Assembly Democrats, many from the New York City region, wanted more protections for renters put into the law.

Enter Governor Cuomo who has been the beneficiary of the landlord/real estate dollars. Here was Cuomo at his strategic best. He let it be known to those in favor of enhanced protection for the renters that he was trying to help. But as the old saying goes, “It’s not what they say but what they do.” No matter what he said that he did to help tenants, in the end what they got was a four-year extension of the rent law. The Assembly Democrats simply refused to go along with any more help for the landlords, no matter how much they or their surrogates suggested that the people who rented apartments were just greedy and didn’t want to pay market value. The law exists because there are practically no vacant apartments in New York and the sky is the limit on what property owners can charge. Because of the secrecy of what goes on among the famous “three men in the room,” we’ll never really know what happened. As that guy on the old TV ad used to say, “You get what you pay for.”

This issue is at the top of most New York renters’ list of why they might choose to vote for or against a politician. It is no surprise that the Democrats in the Assembly were so insistent that what protections there were in the law would continue. As many of the upstate legislators learned when Cuomo got them to vote for enhanced gun measures in his heroic SAFE Act, you just can’t vote for something that will come back and bite you in the posterior.

In four years, the Republicans will have lost their control of the Senate. That’s because there will be a presidential election and many of the Republican senators will be swept from office. Once the Democrats have control of both houses, it is assured that the renters in New York will get enhanced protections. Mark my words.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/29/15

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