DHCR Nightmares, or… Hello, Landlord Central Speaking

A savvy tenant who telephoned a high-placed official in the state Office of Rent Administration last week at its Gertz Plaza branch in Queens got an unintended glimpse into the Pataki Administration’s friendliness to landlords.The Commissioner’s assistant was apparently not in that day. His secretary explained to the tenant that he was out for the day. Without identifying himself, the tenant asked the secretary whether he could reach him elsewhere. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Secretary: Who’s calling?

Tenant: (on a whim) This is Joe Strasberg.

Secretary (in a noticeably friendlier tone): Oh Mr. Strasberg! If you wish we can call him at home.

Tenant: That’s all right, I can reach him later.

Joe Strasberg is the president of the Rent Stabilization Association, the premier landlord lobbying organization in New York City. Before becoming RSA president, Mr. Strasberg was right-hand man to City Council Speaker Peter Vallone and, according to most observers, the most powerful staff member in the city government. The RSA is conducting a campaign to end or maim the rent laws and Strasberg, who has a molecular knowledge of the workings of the Council, is expected to be exercising his clout with the members before the April 1 deadline for renewing the city’s rent laws.

Deep pro-landlord sympathies are the rule in the Division of Housing and Community Renewal, the agency that administers rent regulations in the state. It has been virtually turned over to the real-estate industry to run. Until a few days ago, when he resigned under a financial cloud, its commissioner was Joseph Holland, a former abusive Harlem landlord. Marsha Hirsch, a former attorney with the powerful Queens landlord law firm of Horing Welikson & Bienstock, now directs legal policy at the Office of Rent Administration.