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State may get strong rent laws 

The state legislature could approve new protections this month for many apartment tenants – in Upstate New York as well as in New York City.

In a joint statement last week, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said they will "advance a historic package of tenant protections that encompasses the principles of the nine bills" that have been circulating at the Capitol in recent weeks.

The impetus is the June 15 expiration of New York City rent laws, but Upstate housing activists have pushed hard to have some protections extended to the rest of the state.

Stewart-Cousins and Heastie were short on the details of the bills they're working on. But they include controls on rent increases as well as elements of what tenants groups call a "good cause" bill, which would strengthen tenants' rights against unfair evictions in all parts of the state.

With all of the controls, municipalities would need to opt in to the bills' coverage. The new laws wouldn't be imposed on them.

Despite the statement of an agreement in principle between the leaders, the bills face a more uncertain fate in the state Senate. The legislation might have to be modified to win approval from Democrats representing Long Island and Hudson Valley districts that are more conservative.

Stewart-Cousins was not ready to talk specifics about which bills have the votes to pass right now.

"I don't have a number I'm prepared to give you," Stewart-Cousins said. But she predicted the new rent laws will be the "strongest ever."

Tenant advocates have urged the Senate and Assembly to work together on the rent laws without Governor Andrew Cuomo, but Stewart-Cousins would not say whether she might do that.

"We'll do whenever it comes together, with whomever it comes together with," Stewart-Cousins said. "We're interested in getting the work done, not so much who does it first and who does it second."

Cuomo has been criticizing his Democratic colleagues in the legislature in recent days for lack of action on renewing rent control and other items. But Cuomo also has threatened to veto any rent renewal agreement that is approved without his participation.

Karen DeWitt is Albany correspondent for WXXI News.

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