Without mentioning Bloomberg, Quinn asks for Council oversight of the Rent Guidelines Board

Christine Quinn. (Dan Rosenblum)
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Christine Quinn and other city and state legislators met today to advocate a bill that would give the Council more influence over a mayor-controlled body in charge of setting rent increases.

Speaking to reporters at City Hall, Quinn didn’t mention the mayor by name, but questioned why the Council didn’t have the authority to vet mayoral appointees of the nine-member New York City Rent Guidelines Board.

“So then the question becomes, really, it isn't why isn't this happening, why hasn’t this happened?” Quinn said. “Why is this one board that is so important, so central to the life of so many New Yorkers, only appointed by the executive with no input from the legislature?”

The call for greater Council control fits in, politically, with what Quinn has been doing over the past few months, as she has sought to establish a respectful distance between herself and the Bloomberg administration in anticipation of next year's mayoral primary.

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At the press conference today, Quinn cited other boards with Council oversight, such as the City Planning Commission, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Health and Hospitals Corporation. Quinn said the bill would balance a system that was currently “nothing more than a kangaroo court.”

“Whether landlord income has gone up or down, regardless of whether expenses have gone up or down, regardless of whether the average income of the tenant has gone up or down, rents go up every year, regardless of the data,” she said. “It’s as if the facts are left--you’ve gotta check the facts at the coat-check place before you go on to be on the Rent Guidelines Board. We want those days to be over.”

Identical bills sponsored by Daniel Squadron in the State Senate and Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly would give the Council--as well as the legislatures of Nassau, Westchester and Rockland County--the ability to oversee all appointees of the R.G.B., remove them for cause and encourage more appointees from urban-planning, housing or social-services backgrounds.

Last month, Bloomberg extended the rent laws, which affect about one million units, for another three years, something the mayor has done regularly since 1979. The bill prefaces a yearly battle as the board votes on whether to allow rent hikes.

The whole rent-control system also faces an existential threat, with the Supreme Court set to announce soon whether it will hear a case on its constitutionality, prompted by a suit from an Upper West Side landowner who contends he is being deprived of property by the rent-controlled tenants he inherited.

The politicians wouldn’t make predictions, on the case but said any decision would go against the status quo.

“Will the Supreme Court disregard … 60 years of precedent?” Assemblyman Dick Gottfried said. “Hard to say, but if they do do anything to weaken the rent laws, they will have to be undoing several decades of bedrock court decisions, including the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Councilman and former tenant organizer Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn went further, calling the R.G.B. a “sham” and criticizing the board for not decreasing rents at any point in the past four decades.

“This is greedy people who are gonna send money, mostly Republicans, in the Republican Senate to prevent this from happening,” Williams said, presumably referring to the landlord lobby.

In 2006, Williams helped organize a tenant protest which tried to shut down a meeting where the board allowed rent raises of more than seven percent. He referred to the two dozen people behind him, a group of members including those of Tenants and Neighbors and New York Communities for Change. 

“I’m speaking for myself only, but I’m down to go with some Occupy Wall Street people and the people behind me and shut them down again,” he said.

Quinn didn’t take questions during or after the press conference. Before walking quickly into City Hall, she made a joke about the weather.

“I will conclude by saying, why didn’t we think to put an awning on the front of City Hall when we did the renovations?” she said. “Clearly there wasn’t a person with Irish skin in charge of the renovations.”