Real Deal: Dozens of tenants arrested at rent reform protest outside assembly chamber

Protestors were arrested on Tuesday after blocking the entrance to the state Assembly chamber, as they demanded that the state legislature pass a package of nine bills aimed at reforming rent regulation laws. Similar protests and arrests took place outside the Senate chamber and Gov. Cuomo’s office, in an effort by tenants to pressure lawmakers to pass the measures with only 11 days before rent laws expire.

The protests occurred as Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told the Buffalo News that there is now enough support in the Senate to move forward with the nine-bill package.

Tenant activists, all wearing red “Housing Justice For All” T-shirts blocked the stairs to the hallway just outside the chamber, filling the cavernous room with shouts of “all nine bills” and “Hey-hey, ho-ho, Universal Rent Control.” Assembly officials tried to physically force protestors out of the way but failed. At one point, Assembly Sergeant-At-Arms Wayne Jackson climbed over a woman to get back to the chambers. He declined to comment about the incident afterward.

Protestors were holding signs featuring images of a disembodied Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Stewart-Cousins next to scales weighing landlords on one side and families on the other. While lobbyists and Assembly members looked on, state police officers took tenants away in handcuffs two-by-two amid cheers from the other tenants. At least a dozen people were arrested outside the Assembly chambers, and according to state police, 61 people were arrested throughout the Capitol.

After the protestors were arrested, Assembly members Walter Mosley and Harvey Epstein were briefly seen chanting along with the crowd. Tenants booed lobbyists, who had been waiting outside the Assembly chamber hoping to talk to lawmakers, as they filed out of the hallway.

Tenant advocates from various organizations, including Met Council, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road, Crown Heights Tenant Union and Democratic Socialists of America, participated in the acts of civil disobedience that resulted in scores of arrests under the banner of Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition of tenant advocacy organizations.

The protest took place outside the assembly chamber, not usually the center of focus. Pressure on the assembly intensified after sweeping 2018 elections that saw the defeat of real estate industry favorites in the Senate.

The package of bills includes ending vacancy decontrol, as well as the Major Capital Improvements and Individual Apartment Improvements programs, making preferential rents permanent, expanding the Emergency Tenant Protection Act statewide and enacting “Good Cause” eviction. The real estate industry argues that the bills would disincentivize development.

Packaging the issues into one omnibus bill would fundamentally change the nature of the negotiations, setting the stage for Cuomo, Heastie and Stewart-Cousins to negotiate the rent regulation legislation alongside other controversial measures.