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Tenants, Activists Demand Rent Regulation Extension, Fight Increases

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The fight over rent regulations stretched from the city to Albany Thursday, with several protesters getting arrested and dozens of tenants later swarming a Rent Guidelines Board meeting.

As CBS2's Jessica Schneider reported, the protesters are demanding an extension to rent stabilization, and are also demanding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo get involved.

Chanting, "Tenants united will never be defeated," protesters came streaming in to confront the Rent Guidelines Board. Dozens of people who depend on rent-stabilized apartments said they cannot afford any rent increase.

"I'm a legal secretary. I'm maxed out. I was told at my job I haven't gotten a raise in two years," said Lydia Aponte. "I was born and raised here."

Aponte lives in the Bronx, paying $1,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. Her 32-year-old son just moved back in because his part-time job does not quite pay the bills.

The rent board is considering an increase of 0 percent to 2 percent for one-year leases, and 0.5 percent to 3.5 percent for two-year leases.

Tenants say any increase is too high, while landlords stress they too are struggling to pay the bills.

"Now if we have no increase at all, I don't know how we're going to do it," said landlord Alfred Versacci. "Frankly, for the first time in 71 years, my family is really considering we maybe have to give up the building."

Protesters are demanding Albany take action too. Rent stabilization laws governing the system expire Monday, and on Thursday, seven people were arrested outside Gov. Cuomo's Midtown office at 633 Third Ave., demanding that he get involved.

Demonstrators blocked the main entrance to the building and made it difficult, if not impossible, for those who work there to get inside, CBS2's Steve Langford reported.

The protesters urged Cuomo to push lawmakers in Albany to extend rent regulations, which may lapse in the next week. Their chants included, "Gov. Cuomo, you can't hide. We know you're on the landlords' side," and, "Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a right!" They also held a large banner reading, "CUOMO: STRONGER RENT LAWS NOW!!!"

Police moved in to remove the protesters and CBS2's camera caught back-and-forth shoving between police and a man.

Rent Regulation Rally
Demonstrators block the entrance to the building housing Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Manhattan office on June 11, 2015. (Credit: CBS2)

By noon, the building had been cleared, and police barricades had been delivered there.

Cuomo was not seen at the building Thursday, but he said Wednesday he would like to see an improvement on rent regulations, not just an extension.

"I would like to see an improvement on the rent regulations, not just an extension," Cuomo said.

The governor said failure to pass at least an extension could lead to pandemonium.

Brooklyn City Councilman Jumaane Williams (D-45th) said if the state assembly and state senate don't deal with the rent regulations in time, then the governor should act decisively to make rent laws tougher.

"We think a straight extension is not the answer, is not a win. The governor needs to really stand tall and back up his words and say a straight extension is not sufficient," Williams said.

The councilman and others said they don't believe tenants will suffer immediately if the rent law expires, since leases will remain in effect.

The rent law expires Monday, and lawmakers expect to adjourn later next week.

The rent rules cover more than 1 million apartments in and around New York City.

Unstabilized rents in Manhattan are higher than ever with an average rent hitting $3,475 a month, according to recently released statistics.

And in the meantime, the fight will go on between tenants and landlords.

"Right now, we need a rent rollback," said Carmen Vega-Rivera. "People are really struggling and suffering."

But landlords said they should not have to pay for the problem.

"I don't think the mayor understands the core of the issue. They should be raising minimum wages rather than freezing the rent," said landlord Gigi Porcelli.

There are two more public hearings on the issue before the Rent Guidelines Board makes a final decision on June 24, on whether to freeze rents or raise them.

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