Tenants Protest at Klein’s House

About 75 people, most from the Bronx, turned out June 18 to protest state Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s failure to support pro-tenant legislation such as the repeal of vacancy decontrol.

Cordoned off by police barricades, they picketed outside the senator’s home, on a quiet side street of two- and three-story brick houses near Pelham Parkway. Klein’s oddly shaped district, which covers parts of the northern Bronx and Mount Vernon in Westchester County, includes more than 34,000 rent-regulated apartments.

“I like Jeff personally, but it looks like his whole concept of vacancy decontrol is that it’s only for rich people in Manhattan,” says Jeff Panish, 66, a city worker and lifelong neighborhood resident. “Living in the Bronx, I don’t see that. We have retired people, people on fixed incomes, who are almost at $2,000.”

The average tenant in his building pays $1,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, Panish adds.

“I’m a victim of deregulation,” says Ideen Zarkin, 44, who moved to the neighborhood three years ago. “It’s happening in the Bronx right here, right now, not just in Manhattan like he wants people to believe.”

Though Zarkin pays $1,450 a month, her apartment has been legally deregulated. “I am afraid to call the super even if a closet door falls, because I have no guarantee that this is where I will be living next year,” she told the crowd later. “I have no rights.”

Klein is one of the few state senators from New York City who has not cosponsored the bill, said Carmen Pineiro of Community Voices Heard. “Jeffrey Klein, why are you standing with Pedro Espada and the rich landlords?” she asked.

The senator has claimed that he supports the bill to repeal vacancy decontrol, but has also said privately that he is working to prevent it from coming to a vote on the Senate floor, according to Piniero and a flyer handed out at the rally.

According to a New York Public Interest Research Group study commissioned by the New York Times in 2008, major real-estate interests gave state Senate Democrats more than $750,000 for the 2008 election, hoping to head off pro-tenant legislation. Much of this money went through Klein, who heads the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. The senator personally received more than $240,000 in real-estate contributions during his 2008 campaign, almost a third of the total he took in in the second half of the year, the Daily News reported in 2009.

Klein, elected in 2004, replaced Republican Guy Velella, a rent-control foe who was jailed for taking bribes.