Council members talk broker fee caps and real estate donations

Pols Keith Powers and Eric Ulrich appeared on TRD Talks Live

New York /
Jul.July 07, 2020 01:45 PM

It wasn’t so long ago that broker fees were among the biggest points of contention in city government.

Democratic City Council member Keith Powers remembers, recalling a heated hearing last summer, when thousands of residential real estate agents converged on City Hall to protest his bill, which would cap broker fees. “Untangling” New York City’s complex rent system has proven difficult, he said.

“I’ve spoken to lots and lots of brokers, who are working really hard and been affected by Covid. I know that’s severely hurt their income, and I’m totally sensitive to that,” Powers said during Monday’s edition of TRD Talks Live. He was joined by Republican Council member Eric Ulrich, with Real Deal senior managing editor Erik Engquist leading the discussion.

Powers added that renters shouldn’t have to dip into their savings or be saddled with debt in order to move into a new apartment. The Midtown lawmaker supports guidance issued by the Department of State earlier this year, which held that changes to the state’s rent regulation law compels landlords to pay fees for brokers they hire. The real estate industry’s legal challenge to the guidance is ongoing.

The discussion also included political fundraising, notably that many city and state officials have sworn to reject campaign donations from the real estate industry. Ulrich called such pledges “ridiculous.”

He said accepting money from a particular interest group isn’t an “implicit endorsement” of its agenda, and doesn’t grant a donor disproportionate access to elected officials.

“I have not opened the door for lots of people who gave me money,” said the Queens representative, who is one of just three Republicans in the 51-member chamber and the only one not from Staten Island.

Powers noted that Albany can do more to reform campaign finance in state-level elections. Contributions to City Council candidates are limited to $1,000 for those who receive matching public funds.

“If somebody is for sale, then they are selling themselves pretty cheap,” Ulrich said. “Can you really buy a politician for $1,000? Maybe in Illinois, maybe in New Jersey.”

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected].


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