Loft Law Renewed for Three Years

After two weeks of wrangling that threatened the homes of New York’s 10,000 loft tenants, Governor George Pataki and the state Legislature have renewed the Loft Tenant Protection Act for three years.The law, enacted in 1982, allows people to live in buildings zoned for commercial uses. It requires landlords to bring their buildings into compliance with residential codes and allows them to pass the cost of that on to the tenants in the form of temporary rent surcharges. Once legalized, the apartments go under rent stabilization.

Pataki and the Republican-dominated State Senate had used the law, slated to expire on June 30, as a hostage to win concessions from the Democratic-controlled Assembly on budget cuts, hospital cost deregulation, and workers’ compensation. Many of the state’s loft tenants live in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s Lower Manhattan district.

The law was extended for 36-hour periods several times during two weeks of wrangling. If the state had let it expire for any length of time, landlords would have been free to try to evict loft tenants immediately. If the law had later been renewed and made retroactive to the date it expired, the eviction proceedings might have been dismissed, but still would have ended up costing tenants time and money.

The loft-law impasse is widely seen as a preview of what will happen when the state’s rent-regulation laws expire next June 30. When the regulations last came up for renewal in 1993, Republicans in the State Senate used similar tactics, threatening to let them expire — and leave more than a million tenants exposed to massive rent increases or arbitrary eviction — in order to win concessions on “luxury decontrol” from the Democratic-controlled Assembly and then-Governor Mario Cuomo. After several last-minute extensions, the laws were amended to allow unlimited rent increases on apartments renting for over $2,000 a month if they became vacant or the tenant made over $250,000 a year.