The fight over raising the rents on New York City’s one million regulated apartments used to be about business. Now it’s become personal.
During a meeting Monday with Democratic Senate and Assembly members and activists, the typically monotone Andrew Cuomo was furious. “I can’t believe they mentioned my family,” the governor said.
He was referring to a heavily edited YouTube video of Joseph Strasburg, president of the pro-landlord Rent Stabilization Association, at a town hall meeting of his members (The full video is available here.). “Andrew Cuomo will crush you like his father did,” Mr. Strasburg said in the video, which tenant activists seized upon like the keys to a gracious $600-a-month apartment.
On a call with The Observer on Tuesday, Mr. Strasburg was at once unapologetic and more conciliatory. “This time I have all of my clothes on,” he joked, referring to the fact that his attire changes throughout the heavily edited video. He said the comments were taken out of context. He hasn’t spoken with the governor, but he’s holding another closed town hall meeting this week and said: “I’m not attacking anyone on a personal level.”
Indeed, while a showdown between the governor and Big Real Estate gives fodder to humble scribes, heed this: Democrats could score their first victory on rent regulation in more than two decades.
On Monday evening, the Democratic-controlled Assembly passed the most comprehensive bill strengthening rent regulation in years, including ending a provision that allows them to deregulate some vacant apartments, increasing the threshold at which apartments are deregulated, and (even!) returning some apartments deregulated since 2007 to rent-stabilization.
It’s no great shock that the Assembly passed a rent-regulation bill, but whether similar legislation makes it through a Republican-controlled Senate depends a lot on Mr. Cuomo’s support. For months, the governor has been quiet about rent regulation—torn between Big Real Estate (a powerful lobby and his largest donor) and his Democratic base. His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
That’s changed. “I know for sure he’s in support of renewing and strengthening rent regulation,” said Assembly member Linda Rosenthal of the Upper West Side. “He’s generally supportive of the legislation.”
The governor “is invested in making sure this doesn’t happen at the 11th hour,” said Senator Adriano Espaillat of Northern Manhattan and the Bronx. In particular, the governor appears willing to make it more difficult for landlords to raise rents on vacant or recently renovated apartments.
Democrats are eager to push legislation through the Senate in the next few weeks, before the June 15 deadline draws nigh. Republicans are already firing back, making it clear they plan to trade rent regs for a property tax cap. “While the current rent laws expire on June 15 and we do have plans to address the issue in the weeks ahead,” said a statement from Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ office, “we would urge the Assembly to take up and pass the governor’s hard property tax cap, as the Senate has already done, so middle-class families can finally get some relief from high property taxes.”