Over the vehement objections of dozens of red-in-the-face tenant's-rights activists, the City Council passed a complex rent control reform ordinance at Wednesday night's council meeting by a vote of 5-3-1. The majority of the council voted for the resolution after city lawyers warned that if they did not take action, the tenants in moderate- and low-income buildings where rents have been kept artificially low due to federal regulation would be in jeopardy of having their rents jacked up when regulation expires. Council members were particularly concerned about the residents of Clock Towers, a 500-unit apartment building where rents will no longer be regulated by the federal government as of May 1. A number of other buildings, including 16 properties owned and operated by the Applied Housing Corporation, will also be impacted by the new resolution. But it was the imminent sale of Clock Towers that spurred the Council to action Wednesday night. "The owners of Clock Towers have told us that the are trying to sell by May 1st," said Hugh McCluskey, a city lawyer, as he waved a letter from the building's owner over his head. "If you don't take action, the risk is not that the tenants will be thrown out summarily, but that the new owners will try to raise the rents summarily. It seems prudent to take some prophylactic action now." But tenant's rights activists wondered aloud why the council had developed a multifaceted ordinance that allows landlords in certain situations to raise rents, if their only intent was to protect the tenants in Clock Towers. Chief among their concerns were provisions that provided opportunities for landlords to raise the rents to market rates once tenants leave their apartments in 30 percent of the units of buildings that had once been regulated by the federal government. A portion of the ordinance does not even pertain to low- and moderate-income buildings, but provides decontrols for two-family owner-occupied homes. What's in it According to the ordinance, owners of buildings that had once been regulated by the federal government would be allowed to exercise "vacancy decontrol" only one time, allowing them to raise the rents in 30 percent of the units to whatever they wanted after tenants left. After that, the units would once again come under the purview of the city's 1972 Rent Control Ordinance. That law prohibits landlords from raising rents on more than 3,000 city apartments by more than the Cost of Living Adjustment, currently 2.7 percent. Even before the measure passed, tenant's-rights advocates began circulating a petition to gather the signatures necessary to take the issue out of the hands of the City Council and put it to the voters in an election. Daniel Tumpson, a passionate tenant activist, told the council that the resolution may address the immediate concerns of residents of Clock Towers, but that it was so loaded that it could ultimately lead to the end of rent control altogether. He suggested that the new ordinance would make the entire law susceptible to a legal challenge since it would provide a benefit to one set of landlords and not another. Pointing to a crowd of Clock Towers residents who were sitting together, Tumpson said, "If the council had just dealt honestly with your problem, [the ordinance] would have gone right through. But instead, they are trying to sneak other things in like vacancy decontrol. They are trying to get you to go against other tenants. They want to use you to divide us and ultimately get rid of rent control in this town." Offered alternative Tenants rights advocates urged the council to consider a pared-down rent control ordinance reform measure sponsored by Councilman Dave Roberts that simply states that buildings like Clock Towers come under rent control when the federal government no longer regulates their rents. But with sale of Clock Towers two months away, a majority of the council was worried that if they postponed consideration of the ordinance, they could be putting residents at risk. "If you are going to sit up here and gamble that nothing happens to Clock Towers while you filibuster and add amendments, then that is your prerogative," said Councilman Stephen Hudock, the original measure's sponsor. "But I'm not willing to gamble. We have done a lot of work on this ordinance and it protects 100 percent of the tenants." Hudock's logic left Roberts scratching his head. He argued that something should be done as soon as possible to protect the tenants of Clock Towers, but that the real gamble was the impact that the other provisions in the resolution would have on the city's dwindling affordable housing stock. "This reduces affordable housing in the city by 30 percent," he said. "Those buildings that are providing affordable housing in this city today have been paid for by all kinds of tax abatements. After we have worked hard and spent a lot of taxpayer dollars to create that inventory, I don't understand for the life of me why we should begin reducing it." As the debate wound down, Council President Nellie Moyeno, who has been very active on tenant issues in the past, asked the city council lawyer for an opinion about whether it would be improper for council members like herself and councilman Ruben Ramos Jr. to vote on the resolution since they live in owner-occupied two family homes. Since they could gain from the passage of the ordinance, Moyeno and Ramos were "advised" to abstain. While Ramos ignored the council's advice, Moyeno adhered to it, earning her the jeers of members of the audience who apparently believed that she had manufactured an excuse not to vote against the law. Slamming her gavel repeatedly to try and quiet the crowd just after the vote, Moyeno launched into a passionate diatribe. "If I had voted on this, I would have supported this ordinance," she said. "As a minority, I would never want to support anything that would get tenants thrown out of their homes." In addition to Hudock, Council members Theresa Castellano, Roseanne Andreula, Richard Del Boccio and Michael Cricco supported the measure. Councilmen Roberts, Ramos and Tony Soares opposed it.