Public Advocate’s Office Gears Up to Offer Legal Help If Rent Regulations Expire

Public Advocate Letitia James. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Public Advocate Letitia James. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images) Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Public Advocate Letitia James today announced her office was preparing to offer legal services to the tenants of the more than one million apartments facing rent deregulation should Albany fail to renew the city’s rent laws by the expiration deadline on Monday.

Ms. James said her staff, in coordination with the Legal Aid Society and Legal Services NYC—and any attorneys interested in volunteering—would offer to act as counsel in housing court to the 2 million tenants who might face eviction or harassment if the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo fail to come to an agreement on rent regulations in three days. The public advocate lashed out at Albany, insisting that even a reinstatement of existing statutes would be insufficient, and argued more tenant-friendly rules are necessary.

“I join with the countless number of New Yorkers who have this disgust, given the sense of paralysis in Albany, that nothing is happening in Albany, that legislators we pay each and every day to get things done can’t decide on protecting over two million rent regulated tenants,” she said.

Noting that many residents of cost-controlled apartments are elderly or disabled, Ms. James urged them to call (212) 669-7250 if they are in need of legal help. The public advocate has co-sponsored a bill in the Council which would create a “right to counsel” in housing court, and she presented the offer of counsel as a short-term emergency measure.

“I say to them that there are legal recourses and defenses that are on their side to protect them in their home,” she said. “Assuming that rent regs expire on Monday, that there are an army of attorneys that will represent them in court and make sure that we mount those defenses.”

State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, has indicated an interest in extending rent laws in their current form. Assembly Housing Committee Chairman Keith Wright has vowed that he will not allow the 421a tax abatement—a controversial building credit for developers—to pass unless the State Senate agrees to tougher rent regulations

Mr. Cuomo has announced his support for strengthening the rent laws to eliminate vacancy decontrol, which allows landlords to remove an apartment from the rent control system if it becomes unoccupied. But he has sought to package new rent laws with the education investment tax credit, which would allow people to write off donations to public and private schools, which the Assembly opposes.

Ms. James declined to comment on what she referred to as “horse trading” in the state capital.

“What we need, most important, is leadership in Albany,” she said.