By Sabina Mollot
Call it the Cynthia Nixon effect.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has frustrated housing advocates in recent years for not pushing harder for strengthened rent regulations, has recently stated, in writing, that he would be coming up with a plan to bolster them, including by eliminating vacancy decontrol.
Earlier this month, the Met Council on Housing published a questionnaire for all the gubernatorial candidates along with answers provided by all the candidates who responded, on its website.
Answering a question about how he would strengthen the rent laws in 2019, Cuomo said he would “advance a comprehensive plan — eliminating vacancy decontrol, limiting or eliminating vacancy bonuses, combating artificial rent inflation, making preferential rent the rent for the life of the tenancy, and securing new TPU (Tenant Protection Unit) enforcement tools.”
The other candidates who responded to the survey, Cuomo’s primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins and Independent candidate Stephanie Miner, also all committed to a pro-rent regulation agenda. Gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro and Libertarian Larry Sharpe did not respond. Cuomo, a Democrat, is also running on the Independence and Women’s Equality Parties.
Nixon said she would also close loopholes that allow for vacancy decontrol as well as vacancy bonuses, preferential rent and major-capital-improvements loopholes. Hawkins said the same while also calling for having rents capped at 30 percent of tenant income and calling for home rule. Miner also committed to ending vacancy decontrol and called for rent hikes no higher than what the Rent Guidelines Board votes on.
Town & Village reached out to a Cuomo spokesperson to ask about details of his plan, such as when and how he intends to implement it. However, no one responded.
Meanwhile, one of Cuomo’s sharpest critics, Mike McKee of Tenants Political Action Committee, indicated he’ll believe Cuomo intends to end vacancy decontrol when he sees it.
“The problem with Andrew is he talks a good fight. The question is does he mean it?” asked McKee. “He’s certainly late to the party.”
He added that if Cuomo wins — as polls have shown he most probably will — “We would certainly hold him to it.”
TenantsPAC has already endorsed Nixon for governor and in McKee’s opinion, there’s no question as to the reason for Cuomo’s pledge.
“It’s pretty obvious it’s because of Cynthia Nixon,” said McKee. “In terms of tenant legislation, she’s been the best governor we’ve had and she’s not even governor yet.”
The rent regulations were strengthened the last two times they were up for renewal, but tenant advocates have blasted the efforts as minimal since they didn’t repeal vacancy decontrol or vacancy bonuses and didn’t end major capital improvement increases. Initially, Cuomo hadn’t committed to strengthening them in 2015, citing the turmoil in Albany caused by two corruption scandals surrounding the leaders of the two legislative chambers.
McKee said if Cuomo wants to prove he’s serious, he could introduce a governor’s program bill, legislation he’d come up with and then ask a member of each legislative house to sponsor, rather than wait for the rent regulations to expire in the summer of 2019.
“It’s a way of showing you mean what you say,” said McKee. “It doesn’t mean you would work in a meaningful way (to pass it), but it would be a step in the right direction.”
Tenant advocates are hoping the upcoming election will be an opportunity to flip the Republican-controlled State Senate, which is where pro-tenant bills go, only to never be heard.