Election Sets Stage for 2011 Rent-Law Battle

The results of the Nov. 2 elections will determine the political terrain for the campaign to renew and strengthen New York’s rent-stabilization and rent-control laws, which are set to expire on June 15, 2011. Control of the state Senate may not be resolved for weeks, with three races still undecided and possibly headed for court challenges.

In the gubernatorial race, Democrat Andrew Cuomo’s overwhelming victory over bigoted billionaire Carl Paladino means that unlike the last two times the rent laws came up for renewal, in 1997 and 2003, there will not be an outspoken enemy of rent regulations like George Pataki in office. However, Cuomo’s record on housing is mixed, and bringing him around will be a major goal of the tenant movement and its allies.

The Working Families Party, which endorsed Cuomo, garnered almost three times the 50,000 votes needed to gain a place on the state ballot for the next four years—and possibly enough to move from Row E to Row D, past the Independence Party.

The WFP also provided the narrow margin of victory for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, another Democrat. Eric Schneiderman’s convincing win for attorney general means that tenants will have a champion in Albany with access to the governor.

In the Assembly, Democrats retained a strong majority. The Assembly has passed pro-tenant measures every year in recent history, but they were “one-house bills” that failed to pass the state Senate. It accepted crippling amendments to the rent laws in 1997 and 2003.
Control of the 62-member Senate will depend on the final outcome in three districts. Democrats need to hold all three to have a 32-30 majority. In Nassau County and Buffalo, Democratic incumbents Craig Johnson and Antoine Thompson each trailed by under 500 votes with absentee ballots yet to be counted. In Westchester, Suzi Oppenheimer held a 180-vote lead with incomplete returns.

However, a 32-30 Democratic majority—the best-case scenario at this point—will not ensure that the Senate will stand up to the power and vast financial contributions of the Rent Stabilization Association and other landlord lobbies. Although Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada, the pro-landlord chair of the Senate’s housing committee, was soundly defeated in the September primary by Gustavo Rivera, key Democratic real-estate allies Carl Kruger and Jeffrey Klein did not face significant challenges.

If the Senate ends up with a 31-31 deadlock, Lt. Gov.-elect Robert Duffy, a Democrat, will be able to cast a tie-breaking vote on procedural matters, but it will probably be left for the courts to decide whether he will also be able to vote on substantive matters.
Whatever the Senate’s ultimate makeup, tenants and affordable-housing advocates face an enormous battle over the next seven months to avoid further weakening of rent and eviction protections and to begin repairing the damage by repealing vacancy decontrol.