Why it’s in Cuomo’s best interest politically to strengthen the rent laws

Note: the governor on Saturday made statements indicating he was interested in strengthening the rent laws further than his previous position of simply slightly raising the threshold at which apartments can be deregulated.

With Albany in a state of chaos brought on by allegations of bribery and corruption of two of the infamous three men in a room, the governor has stated that due to said chaos, the rent laws could just be renewed as is or maybe slightly tweaked. For instance, according to a Daily News article this week, he’s suggested raising the $2,500 rent threshold at which a unit can be destabilized by a whopping $200 to $2,700.

A minor change like this seems to be in sharp contrast to four years ago when the rent laws were somewhat strengthened for the first time in 18 years. This strengthening was due, at least in part, to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s influence. Clearly, the man has the power to make a difference if he wants to.

So the question is, does he want to now? It doesn’t really look that way. But hopefully, Cuomo, who is nobody’s fool, will see that with it being out in the open that legislators have essentially been for sale in Albany, it really is time for lawmakers to distance themselves from their deep-pocketed benefactors. After all, this isn’t just about bribery and kickback schemes. There is also the matter of the huge amounts of cash that have been steered to key players, including Cuomo, legally, from real estate interests.

Obviously all these elected officials want to get reelected and having the campaign cash helps, but with the state’s pay-for-play politics finally having been exposed due to ongoing federal investigations, this just isn’t a situation that’s going to be fixed with dollar bills. While we believe Cuomo damaged his credibility irreparably by shutting down his own anti-corruption watchdog panel, with the rent laws, he still has an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of voters. That is, if he can prove that it’s the citizens and not the powers that be he cares about protecting.

How can he do this? By pushing for the strengthening of the rent laws by ending vacancy decontrol, preferential rents and reforming MCIs, IAIs and other fees that legally jack up rents like vacancy bonuses. He also needs to close the LLC loophole that has allowed companies to funnel seemingly endless contributions through any limited liability company they create.

We’re with TenantsPAC treasurer Mike McKee and the ST-PCV Tenants Association on the view that it is worth the effort for tenants to put pressure on Albany’s elected officials, especially Cuomo, until the rent laws are renewed on June 15.

What can tenants do? Well, anything they can really. Wave signs in Albany with the Tenants Association on June 9. Or, if getting out of work that day is impossible, write letters to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, local Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and the governor. Another option is venting for the Tenants Association’s #tellyourstory campaign. In particular, tenants living in Stuyvesant Town who are paying higher rents could make a huge impact by sharing their experiences. After all, those socked with high increases due to the legal bait-and-switch scheme that is preferential rent are a shining example of how stabilized does not always equal affordable. The fact that rent-stabilized tenants can still end up paying over three thousand dollars for a one-bedroom is yet another example of what’s wrong with the system.

All that being said, don’t just take our word for it. McKee, when asked for his thoughts on the situation, said he believes Cuomo is already starting “to feel the heat.”

“I think Andrew’s on the defensive,” he said. “The reason is obvious — the connection between real estate money and Albany policy. We’ve been saying it for years but now it’s out there in black and white. People know what an LLC loophole is. People know that Glenwood Management is Andrew Cuomo’s single biggest donor, even bigger than Tishman Speyer.”

How Cuomo might waver, he added, is uncertain since the governor’s made it clear that he’s not in favor of vacancy decontrol. McKee called Cuomo’s suggestion of raising the deregulation rent threshold “ridiculous,” saying landlords would just find ways to get rents that high. “They’d be stupid if they didn’t.” But as for whether or not pressure on the governor still stood a chance of making real improvements, McKee said, “Absolutely.”

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