De Blasio: Rent Law Expiration Would Be Worse Than Any Recent Natural Disaster

A flood-damaged beach covered by debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, taken a year after the storm. (Photo:  Mario Tama/Getty Images).

A flood-damaged beach covered by debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, taken a year after the storm. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images). Mario Tama/Getty Images

Continuing an all-day publicity blitz against the imminent expiration of the city’s rent laws in the state capital, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared that the deregulation of the more than one million cost-controlled apartments would hit worse than any natural disaster in recent memory—and threatened to resort to shaming landlords who look to take advantage of the situation.

After successive winters of debilitating blizzards, and as some neighborhoods still continue to recover from 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, a reporter today compared the mayor’s response to the increasingly likely midnight demise of rent regulations to a catastrophic weather event. Mr. de Blasio concurred—adding only that the loss of rent laws would be felt deeper and further.

“You’re right, it does have that feel, but the difference is this would affect many, many more people. God forbid, we ever have natural disasters and snowstorms and other problems. But we’ve been through that in the last few years in this city, and there’s been painful loss and many people affected,” he said. “But we have not had a disaster that directly and immediately affected over two million people. This is an entirely different magnitude.”

The mayor’s allies in the Democrat-dominated Assembly have passed a bill that would make the regulations more tenant-friendly, including a Gov. Andrew Cuomo-endorsed provision that would eliminate a landlord’s ability to remove an apartment from the rent control system should it become unoccupied. The State Senate responded late last week by putting forward a straight eight-year extension of the existing statutes, which Mr. de Blasio has warned would result in the continued hemorrhaging of price-controlled units.

Mr. de Blasio signaled earlier today that he would be placated, if not contented, if Albany passed a short-term extension that would preserve the current laws until the State Legislature reconvenes next year.

The mayor said his office was already bracing to offer legal assistance to tenants should the laws expire, and that 311 was already experiencing a dramatic increase in calls from “fearful” residents of regulated units. He urged tenants not to panic, to remember that their current rents are good through the end of their existing leases and asked them to report immediately if their landlords were taking any steps to remove them from their apartments—saying he was ready to publicly expose and embarrass property owners taking illegal actions.

“We’re going to get them legal aid and legal services,” he said, noting his office was already coordinating with groups like the Legal Aid Society. “We’re not going to hesitate to be very public with landlords who act in an illegal or inappropriate fashion.”

“We’re certainly willing to call out names of people,” he added, recalling the “Worst Landlords List” he generated annually while serving as the city’s public advocate.

The rent laws expired for two days when they last came up for renewal in 2011, before Albany passed new regulations that retroactively covered any apartments that might have gone to market rate in the interim period.