Frederic Berman, Protector of Renters in New York, Dies at 92


Frederic S. Berman, a former state legislator and judge who, as a Lindsay administration official, helped usher in a program to regulate rents on hundreds of thousands of apartments in New York City, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 92.

His death, in a nursing home, was confirmed by his wife, Barbara J. Cohn.

Mr. Berman, a reform Democrat, was appointed as New York City’s rent and housing rehabilitation commissioner shortly after John V. Lindsay, a Republican, was elected mayor in 1965.

His challenge was to reconcile rising maintenance costs, declining vacancy rates and rent gouging in unregulated apartments by protecting tenants while discouraging landlords from abandoning their buildings to arson and vandalism.

In 1967, he was instrumental in ending a nine-day walkout by service employees in residential buildings by securing their wages with a provision that allowed property owners, generally, to impose annual rent increases of 2.5 percent. In the process, he drafted what was referred to as a “Bill of Rights” to protect tenants in 1.4 million rent-controlled apartments built before 1947.

Drawing on his skills as a legislator, lawyer and administrator in 1969, Mr. Berman was influential in establishing the Rent Stabilization Law, which extended regulation to about 325,000 apartments built since 1947 and another 75,000 that were no longer covered by rent control.

The new law allowed for more modest periodic rent increases citywide than the marketplace demanded. To this day, they are determined annually by a nine-member board of mayoral appointees — representing tenants, owners and the public — on the basis of the rising costs faced by landlords.

Frederic Sanford Berman was born on March 7, 1927, in Manhattan to Abraham and Rose (Baum) Berman. His father was a lawyer.

After graduating from the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, he received a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in 1949 and a law degree from New York Law School.

Mr. Berman was a lawyer for the city when he was elected to the State Senate in 1963, defeating the incumbent, MacNeil Mitchell, to become the first Democrat in 24 years to represent the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

He was Mr. Lindsay’s rent commissioner until 1969. In 1973, the mayor appointed him to the Criminal Court bench. He served on the State Supreme Court from 1976 to 1997.

His first marriage, to Joan Honey Bernstein, ended in divorce. In addition to Ms. Cohn, whom he married in 1974, he is survived by two children from his first marriage, Anthony and James Berman; and three grandchildren.

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