Council Repeals 'Conflicts' Law

New Majority Overturns Change in Rent Control

A lingering ghost of the last City Council was put to rest Monday night, as the new council voted to repeal a December ordinance that critics contend could have removed hundreds of apartments from the rent control system.

By overturning the so-called "conflicts" ordinance--originally passed at an unscheduled meeting of the lame-duck council last month--the new council escaped the more conservative shadow of its predecessor. Although the measure passed by a slim majority last month, the votes were on the other side Monday night with a solid majority of six councillors deriding the ordinance as "bad law."

"They passed the worst possible piece of legislation that they could put together," said Councillor Edward A. Cyr. "This is horrific legislation."

"I very much regret that this law was passed," said returning Councillor Francis H. Duehay '55, who voted against the measure in December. "We can do better."

The original measure was intended to address disparities between the city's rent control and zoning ordinances by allowing property owners to apply for an amnesty from rent control in cases of conflict.

In such cases, many landlords argue that they are unable to maintain buildings properly or to rent them for their full value.

Cyr and other members of the council's pro-tenant majority said the ordinance had been poorly drafted, arguing that it would allow large numbers of property owners to circumvent the rent control regulations.

Councillor Jonathan S. Myers said the Rent Control Board had received 52 applications for amnesty within the past month. All but one of those applications received exemptions, he said.

"Many potential hundreds of units could be lost as a result of this law," said Myers. "We have time to construct a good law. We don't want to live with a bad law."

But members of the Small Property Owners Association (SPOA), which lobbied for the amnesty in December, said that a repeal would leave their problems unresolved. SPOA co-chair John Natale said the Rent Control Board has made no effort to address conflicts with city zoning in the past, and would have no incentive to do so in the future if the amnesty was ended.

Natale and the SPOA had previously threatened to sue the city if the ordinance were repealed.

Councillor William H. Walsh, the council's most vocal critic of rent control, argued that repeal would almost certainly open the city to further legal action.

In an opinion delivered to the council last night, city attorneys said the city was not in any serious danger of losing a court battle. Duputy City Solicitor Donald A. Drisdell told the council that most claims against the repeal would be groundless, because it simply returned the rent control laws to their previous state.

`An Unwritten Law'

But Walsh argued that the city could not simply return to its previous policy because no specific rules on rent control conflicts existed.

"All the repeal tonight does is put us back from a written law to an unwritten law," said Walsh. "We're in a state now, not only of a lot of potential lawsuits, but a state of confusion."

But most councillors said they preferred to take the risks an appeal might entail, rather than allow the city to lose rent-controlled apartments.

"The reality is that this city has to move on," said Vice Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72. "We have lost sight of a very important thing--the ownership of real estate, while a wonderful thing, is not the reason for being."