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NY Tenant Protest Leads To Arrests As Rent Law Deadline Nears

Hundreds of pro-tenants’ rights protesters at the New York State Capitol Tuesday blocked the entrances to the Senate and Assembly chambers, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, as they demanded that the 2019 session not end until rent laws are reformed. The groups achieved some results as Senate Democrats announced they have agreed to the measures pushed by the tenant groups.  

The echoes of the shouting and chanting vibrated throughout the halls of the old stone building, as protesters targeted all three branches of government, all led by Democrats who have traditionally been friendly to tenants' rights. More than two dozen were arrested.

Paulette Soltani, political director for the activist group VOCAL-NY, says her group had high expectations for the newly Democratic-led legislature, but with just over a week until the current rent regulations expire, says the group is worried about the lack of action.

“We are also deeply frustrated with leadership,” said Soltani, who said the groups are going after “all three leaders.”

“We are demanding today ‘do your jobs, listen to the people,’” she said.  

The groups are seeking passage of nine bills that they say will strengthen and expand the rent laws. They want an end to the 20 year old practice of Vacancy Decontrol, which allows landlords to rent an apartment at higher, market rates, once the monthly rate reaches a certain threshold set by the Rent Guidelines Board.   

The groups also want to extend New York City’s rent regulations to Upstate, and portions of the New York City suburbs that do not already have rent control.

They are also advocating for a measure known as the “good cause” bill that would make it harder for landlords to evict tenants against their will. That proposal would apply to the entire state. 

"We have a crisis of over 89,000 people living in shelters and we know that this can stop today," Soltani said.

Soltani worries that campaign contributions from real estate developers and landlords are influencing the discussions, but lawmakers deny that.  

About three hours after the protests began, Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said in a statement that after a lengthy private meeting with her Democratic members, “it is clear” there is support for all nine of the bills, and that they will be “advanced” in the remaining days of the session.  

Governor Cuomo continues to say that New York will enact the strongest rent laws to date.

“I will support the most aggressive rent reform in the history of the state of New York,” Cuomo said on June 3. 

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said that the Assembly’s package will include many of the measures and “elements” of the good cause bill. Heastie spoke inside the Assembly chambers as protesters outside chanted “Heastie, Heastie you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side.”  

“Tenant protections are something that means a lot to people and means a lot to us, said Heastie, who predicted the “strongest rent package ever.”  

The Speaker downplayed reports that the Assembly Sargent of Arms had been shoved by protesters, as he tried to keep order in the crowd.   

“People have a right to protest and show their exuberance for issues they believe in,” the Speaker said. “But it should always be done in a civil manner.”  

The rent laws sunset on June 15, and the tenants groups say, between now and then, they will be back.

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