Legislature Adjourns Without Acting on Tenant Bills

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson addresses a rally of New York City loft tenants in Albany May 22, supporting a bill to prevent loft evictions over the coming months. Johnson led a delegation of tenants who came from the city and Nassau and Westchester counties to push for stronger rent laws. Assemblymember Maritza Davila (D-Brooklyn) is at leftThe 2018 session of the New York State Legislature ended with a whimper, not a bang. For the first time in years, there was no “Big Ugly” bill that swept up numerous unrelated issues in a last-minute grand trade between the two houses. 

This strange outcome derived from an impasse in the state Senate, where the Republicans maintain a 32-31 majority with the help of turncoat Democrat Simcha Felder of Brooklyn. But when GOP Senator Tom Croci of Suffolk County returned to active duty in the Navy in May, the Republicans found that they could muster only 31 votes for any bill, one short of the 32 needed to pass anything. The chamber came to a virtual standstill for the last few weeks of the session. 

Worried about losing their control of the Senate in the November election, the Republicans refused to act on a number of big-picture issues, including voting reforms, cash bail reform, women’s reproductive rights, protecting immigrants and child-abuse victims, and protecting tenants. And there was nothing they wanted badly enough to trigger the usual horse-trading with the Assembly. 

One immediate result is that many loft tenants in New York City are now threatened with eviction. The Assembly had passed a “clean-up” bill that would remove punitive exceptions to coverage inserted into the loft law in 2010 at the insistence of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. For example, if a live-work unit is less than 400 square feet or lacks a window opening onto the street, as can happen in former factories and warehouses, the tenant is not protected by the law and therefore subject to eviction. This is precisely the kind of issue that the Assembly could have included in a Big Ugly omnibus bill. 

The Senate also refused to pass a bill to extend the school-zone speed-camera program in New York City, which a study by the city Department of Transportation found highly effective at saving children from injury or death. The fact that the city needs Albany’s permission to install and operate these cameras is another example of how little home rule municipalities have under our state constitution. If the Senate does not return to Albany and pass this bill by July 25, the city will be required to disable the cameras. Marty Golden (R-Brooklyn), who has flip-flopped on whether he supports speed cameras, was instrumental in preventing passage. The Daily News reported that his automobile has been fined 14 times for speeding near schools. 

The session produced two positive results: Neither house acted on a real-estate industry proposal to eliminate the density cap on residential buildings in New York City, which would have allowed the unfettered production of more luxury towers. And in a rare case of bipartisanship, a bill passed both houses to create a state commission to investigate complaints of unethical or illegal practices by prosecutors, who now are rarely penalized for practices such as withholding evidence that could prove a defendant not guilty. As Tenant/Inquilino went to press, it was not clear whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo would sign the bill.