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Theatrical Artists Dive Into Rent Regulation Fray

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A group called Home to the Arts is organizing a Mon., Feb. 24, "emergency meeting" to educate performing artists about rents possibly escalating if the New York state legislature doesn't renew the rent laws, which are scheduled to expire June 15. Most of the 1.2 million regulated apartments are in New York City.

"If rent control and rent stabilization were eliminated, those thousands of performing artists who rely on controlled and stabilized apartments for survival would have to leave the city," explained Tom Bullard, a stage director and board member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SSDC). "If they leave, there'd be an implosion of artistic output. If there's an implosion or collapse, all attendant economies--restaurants, clothing, audiences, the cultural life of the city--will die. If the cultural life of the city dies, the city dies. It's imperative that those of us who live in rent-controlled or stabilized apartments, and those who don't but who are involved in the performing arts, mobilize to let our legislators know that this is a matter of urgency, in fact, crisis."

Bullard founded Home for the Arts along with Diane Lampert, a lyricist who works with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and publicist Fred Stuart of F.S. Cameron, Inc. "We had our first formal meeting a couple of weeks ago, when the urgency crystallized for all of us," Bullard said. "However, it had been under discussion on and off for some time, once it became apparent that these laws might, indeed, sunset."

An economics professor from Columbia University and "prominent" arts figures will address the gathering, 7:30 pm at West Park Presbyterian Church, Amsterdam Ave. at 86th Streets, according to Fred Stuart.

The organization is distributing a flier announcing "an emergency meeting to save your home." The flier asks, "Can you afford $2500 for a one-bedroom apartment? If we are forced to leave New York City, the important reasons for coming here will leave with us! If the ARTS leave New York, the heart leaves New York!"

"A lot of unions are getting involved" by alerting their members to the rent regulation issue through their newsletters, Stuart said. He listed Musicians Union 892, Actors' Equity Association, the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), and the Writers Guild.

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Heat in Albany

The issue began to smolder in Albany in December, when Sen. Joseph L. Bruno (R-Brunswick)--the senate majority leader--proposed eliminating almost all rent regulation by mid-1999. He challenged the Democrats' pro-regulation Assembly leaders to oppose him, saying he would set the present law to die in June.

Five days later, Republican Gov. George Pataki called for a more gradual approach.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said in December that he supports the current system of rent controls. While he has no direct say in the vote to continue regulation, Giuliani is a Republican who has recently mended fences with Pataki and other Republican leaders. The mayor is also seeking re-election, and since nearly all those affected by the law are his constituency, his influence should be felt in Albany. With that in mind, Home to the Arts' Stuart said he had provided Assemblyman John Ravitz (R-Manhattan) with an anti-deregulation legislator to be personally handed to Giuliani, inviting him to speak at the Feb. 24 meeting.

Effect of Sunset

Should the laws indeed sunset in mid-June, landlords would no longer be subject to limited rent increases; they could charge whatever the market would bear.

Rent control applies to apartments in buildings constructed before Feb. 1, 1947. Tenants in rent-controlled apartments may be subject, among other costs, to 7.5% increases yearly until reaching a maximum rent.

Rent stabilization covers buildings built from 1947 to 1974. Also included are formerly rent-controlled apartments added to the rent-stabilized category after they become vacant, if the landlords have optioned to stabilize rents in return for tax abatements. Stabilized rent increases in 1995 and 1996 have been 2% for a one-year lease and 4% for two years. For nearly a decade before that, the increases were 6

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