A law affecting rents paid by 2 million New York City tenants was set to expire Monday as state lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on the extension of it before a midnight deadline.
As talks between legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo dragged on past the long-awaited expiration date, tenants, Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and many rank-and-file lawmakers slammed the slow pace as the latest example of dysfunction in Albany.
"Do your jobs! You're playing with people's lives," said Esteban Giron, one of several New York City tenants who gathered outside Cuomo's Capitol office. The 36-year-old social media consultant said rent regulations have prevented his rent from going up by hundreds of dollars each month.
The rent regulations cover some 1 million rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units in and around New York City. The longstanding rules, which must be renewed in Albany periodically, dictate rent increases and eviction policies and are seen as a key protection for affordable housing in the nation's largest city.
The immediate impact of a lapse in the rules would likely be minor. Landlords of rent-regulated units must give notice to tenants about rent increases or evictions, and Cuomo vowed to go after landlords who exploit the law's expiration. The law expired when it came up for renewal four years ago before an extension passed a few days later.
"While the Legislature needs to act immediately, New York tenants should know that this state government will have zero tolerance for landlords that seek to exploit those who live in rent regulated units," Cuomo said in a statement Monday night, two hours before the law expired.
Still, the slow pace of the negotiations and the approaching deadline prompted a flurry of phone calls to the office of Sen. Adriano Espaillat, a Manhattan Democrat. Espaillat said the procrastination reflected poorly on the Legislature, which has been in session since January.
"This is also about competence and a functioning democracy," Espaillat said. "We had six months. We had a couple of years. And we're here at the 11th hour."
De Blasio said there had been an uptick in calls to the city's 311 information hotline from tenants asking about the expiration. He said the city was prepared to take steps against landlords who tell tenants their leases are no longer in effect because of the law's expiration.
"The hour of decision has come, and it is time for Albany to act," he said. "All Albany had to do was recognize that this deadline was coming — years in the making this deadline was coming — and by this deadline extend rent regulation and strengthen it."
The Assembly voted Monday to renew the law for 48 hours so negotiations on a compromise could continue. The Senate and the Assembly remain far apart on a deal. By evening, the Senate had not announced plans to consider the 48-hour extension passed by the Assembly.
The Assembly's Democratic majority passed a plan in May that would renew the rules for four years, restrict rent increases in vacant apartments and repeal a provision in the current law allowing some apartments to be deregulated when they become vacant.
The Republican-led Senate on Monday passed its preferred alternative, which would extend the rules for eight years and institute new income verification rules to ensure those living in rent-regulated apartments are eligible for the benefit.
Senate Republicans pointed to cases of tenants whose incomes exceed the eligibility requirements or who sublease rent-controlled and rent-stabilized units to turn profits.
"That is what this bill is targeted at, to stop those kinds of abuses," said Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, the chairwoman of the Senate housing committee.
The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn its 2015 session Wednesday. Lawmakers are also expected to take up bills to address campus sexual assault, a tax credit for private school tuition, the legalization of professional mixed martial arts and the renewal of a lucrative tax break for New York City residents.
Cuomo has promised to call the Legislature back into session if it adjourns before passing a deal on renewing the rent rules.