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State Senator Accuses Cuomo Of Trying To 'Divide And Conquer' Democrats On Rent Reform

Cuomo in 2016 standing alongside Carl Heastie, right, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
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Cuomo in 2016 standing alongside Carl Heastie, right, and Andrea Stewart-Cousins. GovernorAndrewCuomo / Flickr

Albany lawmakers spent the weekend negotiating rent reform, leading up to what will likely be a suspenseful week in the state capitol as housing activists and the real estate industry await a deal on nine bills that seek to strengthen tenant protections before the rent laws expire on Saturday.

On Monday, Senator John Liu, who is on the Senate housing committee, told Gothamist that Senate Democrats were “very close to consensus” on passing the bills, including the repeal of major capital improvements, which allows landlords who invest in building-wide renovations to impose permanent rent increases.

Liu accused Cuomo, who last week began calling out Senate Democrats for being unable to reach an agreement, of trying to "divide and conquer" the Democratic conference.

“He’s no longer in control of everything which was what he was able to do when he aided and abetted a Republican Senate," he added. "Those days are gone.”

Last November, Democrats wrested control of the state Senate for the first time in a decade. Over the years, Cuomo was accused of leveraging the Republican majority as well as votes from breakaway Democrats on the Independent Democratic Conference to defeat left-leaning proposals he was not in favor of.

At a press conference Monday, Cuomo once again dared the Senate to produce a bill, saying: "The question is what can the Senate pass and this is the distinction between rhetoric and reality. I am calling on the Senate to pass whatever they can pass. Just pass the most aggressive bill the Senate can pass, the Assembly will pass the same bill and I can sign it."

He later added: "There is no need for a lot of conversations or a lot of negotiations. This is one of the simplest bills I’ve worked on."

His statements echoed those he made on Friday during an interview with WAMC's Alan Chartock, when he said senators who represent Long Island, Hudson Valley and Upstate New York were unable to get on board for all aspects of rent reform. "They can’t take that vote and go home and win,” he said. Six Long Island Democrats have voiced opposition or uncertainty about the so-called “good cause eviction” bill, which would expand rent-regulation to most apartments across the state and protect tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent if the amount rises by more than 1.5 percent times the rate of inflation.

The position of the Long Island Democrats seemed to contradict a tweet earlier last week by Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who said there was support for all nine bills within the Democratic conference.

Cuomo has resisted calls to eliminate renovation rent increases, arguing that the policies governing MCI's and Individual Apartment Improvements (IAIs) should instead be reformed by making the permitted rent increases temporary as opposed to permanent.

According to Liu, all three parties — the Senate, Assembly and Governor’s office — have been in discussions over rent reform.

Tenant activists, who have accused Cuomo of wanting to water down rent reform on behalf of the real estate industry, have been lobbying the Senate and Assembly leaders to cut the governor out of negotiations and simply deliver an approved package of bills for him to sign.

"Unless he wants to end his political career, he's going to have to sign this bill," said Michael McKee, a longtime tenant activist.

Should the Senate and Assembly reach a deal on their own, it would need to be by Wednesday. Under the state constitution, a bill must be in print for three days prior to the final passage. Otherwise, the governor must step in to certify the bill.

Should negotiations go past Wednesday, the Senate and Assembly would effectively be “trapped into negotiating with the governor,” McKee said.

McKee noted that the Democrats could still pass an aggressive rent reform package without the votes of the Long Island Democrats. The Senate has 39 Democrats; only 32 are needed for a majority.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson from Taxpayers for an Affordable NY, a political action committee formed by the Real Estate Board of New York, the real estate industry's lobbying arm, issued the following statement:

“We support responsible rent reforms and will make sure lawmakers continue to hear from the owners, contractors, doormen, supers and other building workers whose livelihoods rely on the right balance of rent regulation.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated with comments from Governor Cuomo's press conference on Monday.

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