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How would proposed state rent control measures impact WNY?

With the New York State Legislature session winding down, lots of issues are still on the table and others are surfacing. That is particularly true of nine interlinked bills that would change the rental housing system across the state - a lot.
Essentially, there are two proposals in the nine bills: statewide availability of rent control and a new landlord and tenant system.

It claims to give the tenants a lot more power against bad landlords in eviction fights. Supporters say it won't bother good landlords.

Rent control remains a major issue in the metro New York area, where it covers New York City and three suburban counties. However, there are 4 million units outside the NYC metro area.

Activist Jim Anderson says rent control should exist for the Western New York region.

"And an opportunity to try it out here," Anderson said. "We cannot presume that we don't have the same situation as New York and I think some of the housing organizations will prove that. And I think that you wouldn't have people just like us who have it down there in New York City, fighting hard to make sure they keep it. It shows why we need - it shows why we should get - it, too."

The last rent control in Western New York existed from World War II into the 1970s. A county could install rent control only if less than 5 percent of units are vacant.

The landlord and tenant change would alter the Housing Court system to punish retaliation where tenants are evicted for complaining about bad housing conditions.

"We have a slumlord crisis," said PUSH Buffalo Co-director of Organizing John Washington. "We have people who are living in conditions coming into our offices every day, saying I have a landlord. I've black mold in my house. It's making me sick. I got rats, roaches, bed bugs, holes, no heat and, at the same time, the rent is rising. People are getting evicted. So people are in housing, in terrible conditions, and then they are getting evicted so they can move in people who can pay more."

This type of retaliation is a key issue in the rent control debate. Housing activists say bad landlords can use eviction laws to raise rents and encourage gentrification, and wind up siezing advance rent payments and security deposits. Activists want that stopped.

Citizen Action staffer Rebecca Garrard said too many people can't afford rising rents as they are.

"Of the state's residents, 50 percent are renters," Garrard said. "Of those 50 percent, 50 percent of them are rent-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their income in housing costs and a quarter are severely rent-burdened."

That means they pay more than half their income in rent.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.