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Woodside residents rally to preserve rent laws

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About 200 Woodside residents answered a call to defend the city's remaining rent regulated apartments at a meeting this week organized by a Queens civic group and a Manhattan non-profit.

Woodside on the Move and the New York State Tenants and Neighbors Coalition sponsored the Tuesday night meeting at PS 11 as part of the Rent 2000 Campaign, a lobbying effort to preserve the city's existing rent protection laws. While the fight over rent regulation has traditionally centered on Manhattan, the campaign hopes Queens voters will tilt the balance in favor of tenants.

"You are very important politically," said Joe Heaphy, of the New York States Tenants & Neighbors Coalition. "One person from Queens is equal to 20 people from Manhattan, because they don't expect to see people from Queens."

The Rent 2000 Campaign is trying to mobilize people from Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn to speak at public hearings the City Council will hold on Feb. 25 and March 6 before it votes on renewing rent regulations in March. City Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) has proposed a rent guidelines renewal bill that preserves the existing protections.

The city's rent laws govern not only maximum rent increases on certain apartments but also provide tenants with protection from unreasonable evictions and set standards for living conditions and repairs. The laws affect more than 200,000 apartment in Queens alone.

Housing advocates expect the City Council to renew the existing rent control and rent stabilization laws, but they fear the Council will attach a last-minute decontrol amendment to the renewal bill as it did in 1994, Heaphy said.

"In 1994 we lost on these decontrol amendments by just a few votes," he said. "We can take nothing for granted. We have to win through the outer boroughs."

The tenant advocates warned Queens residents that the 1994 decontrol provisions are creating a ripple effect on rents in Queens. The 1994 amendment deregulated apartments once their rents reached $2,000.

Housing advocates say landlords have been inflating increases on regulated apartments to push them over the $2,000 ceiling, allowing them to charge any rent the market will bear. This has caused Manhattan rents to increase, sending people to Queens and Brooklyn and, in turn, pushing those rents up as well.

"It does have a trickle-down effect," said Tom Waters, Queens organizer for the coalition. "It didn't just affect Mia Farrow."

Farrow, the actress, once lived in a large rent-controlled apartment on Central Park West in Manhattan.

The majority of the 200-strong crowd at the Woodside event were senior citizens, and Heaphy explained that they too could lose some protections under the rent guidelines, such as the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption.

The Rent 2000 campaign also hopes the political ambitions of term-limited City Council members will work in their favor. Every Queens City Council member will leave office next year, and most of them are seeking other elected offices.

"It seems that Peter Vallone and his allies on the Council are a bit defensive on this issue," Waters said. "We need to let them know that we're watching them."

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