Cuomo, James sail to comfortable 2018 election victories. Here’s what that means for New York’s real estate industry

Democrats took a majority in the senate

Andrew Cuomo and Tish James (Credit: Getty Images)
Andrew Cuomo and Tish James (Credit: Getty Images)

UPDATED: Wed. Nov. 7, 12:20 a.m.: Gov. Andrew Cuomo easily defeated Republican challenger Marcus Molinaro to win re-election on Tuesday, a day of record voter turnout in New York.

The governor campaigned for his third term by vowing to fight the Trump administration and touting achievements like paid-family leave and new infrastructure, including the recently completed Tappan Zee Bridge (now renamed for his father, Mario Cuomo) and $150 billion in investment commitments into other projects statewide. He meanwhile shirked full responsibility for infrastructure problems (namely, the New York City subway).

Though an upstate developer corruption scandal is sending a Cuomo economic czar and three real estate executives to prison, this has not dampened the enthusiasm of downstate property concerns this election season. Cuomo enjoyed the generous financial support of the real estate industry throughout his primary race against Cynthia Nixon and into the general, collecting more than $1 million in campaign contributions from city real estate interests in 2018 alone. With about 26 percent of the vote counted as of 9:50 p.m., Cuomo had captured about 80 percent of the vote.

Cuomo’s preferred candidate for attorney general, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, also won big on Tuesday, after winning handily in a primary race in which real estate money split between herself and Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. James’ campaign platform notably omitted tenant issues, which had been a top priority for the campaign of her most progressive primary challenger, Zephyr Teachout. Teachout refused to take contributions from “corporate” developers and pledged to prosecute more real estate crime.

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But neither Cuomo’s return to office nor James’ promotion guarantees maintenance of the status quo real estate has enjoyed in Albany for several election cycles. Democrats are set to take control of the senate in January after taking a majority of seats on election night.

A Democrat majority, especially with most members of the formerly Republican-collaborating Independent Democratic Conference out of their seats, could put Cuomo in a position to sign off on some major measures limiting the real estate industry’s profits.

Those measures primarily include reforms to multifamily housing, such as the repeal of vacancy decontrol, the repeal of the Urstadt law (which gave the state power over rent control at the expense of the city government) and other changes to the rent stabilization laws that would restrict landlords’ ability to extract more rent from tenants. Each of these issues could form a part of rent law negotiations next year, when the current laws are set to sunset.

As for James, she bolstered a reputation as a progressive leader in her public advocate role by pushing out an annual “Worst Landlords List,” eventually expanding the concept to include “predatory equity” and speculative banking. Last month, James’s spokesperson told The Real Deal that the candidate would “step up enforcement against money laundering and bank fraud tied to real estate.” On tenant harassment, which had been a preoccupation of one of her predecessors, Eric Schneiderman, the spokesperson said “more severe and directed penalties would facilitate enforcement aimed at protecting tenants.”

The Democrats new control over the state senate is the first true majority for the party since 2009, a five-month reign cut short by the decisions of two later criminally-convicted Democrats, Pedro Espada and Hiram Monserrate, to make Republican Dean Skelos, who would also eventually be convicted of crimes, the Senate majority leader.