New York Weighs ‘Good Cause’ Eviction Law

Manhattan. Photo by Jason Krieger on Unsplash With the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium…

Manhattan. Photo by Jason Krieger on Unsplash

With the expiration of the federal eviction moratorium in late August and New York State’s eviction moratorium on Jan. 15, housing advocates seeking to protect residents’ rights are pushing for the New York State Legislature to pass a law that would stop evictions without “good cause,” prohibit steep rent increases and provide automatic lease renewals in most cases.

The so-called “Good Cause” eviction legislation could apply to nearly every rental building, except for owner-occupied properties with less than four units. Among the more controversial elements of the proposed bill is setting a standard for rent increases at 3 percent or 150 percent of the annual inflation rate, whichever is higher. Landlords who want to raise rents higher would have to justify those increases in court, where they could be deemed “unreasonable.” Landlords and property managers say the legislation amounts to a form of rent control. They also say it limits landlords in which residents they choose to remove and punishes good residents if they cannot evict a troublesome one. It may also mean fewer repairs and upgrades would be made in buildings and units and could end up creating a lack of affordable housing.

“This is perceived as rent control by anyone who works in the multi-housing industry,” said Michael Johnson, communications director for Community Housing Improvement Program, an association representing about 4,000 owners and managers of more than 400,000 small and mid-sized, mostly rent-stabilized rental properties in New York City.

“It’s unnecessary, it’s damaging and it hurts the (residents). Ultimately these buildings are going to deteriorate and it will limit the availability of affordable housing to people in need,” said Kenneth Finger, a real estate attorney with the White Plains, N.Y., law firm of Finger & Finger, who represents landlords.

The “Good Cause” eviction legislation had been introduced in 2019 and 2021 by state Sen. Julia Salazar of Brooklyn and Assembly Member Pamela Hunter of Syracuse but never came up for a vote. Worried about the housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and the loss of the eviction moratoriums, Progressive Democrats and housing advocacy groups across the state want the law to be passed as soon as possible during this year’s legislative session. Instead of waiting for state actions, several cities, including Albany, Poughkeepsie and most recently Kingston, have passed their own versions of “Good Cause” eviction laws in recent months.

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Those efforts have been welcomed as important organizing efforts by advocacy groups like For the Many. However, Brahvan Ranga, the group’s political coordinator, testified at a recent Senate Housing/Judiciary Committee hearing that “ultimately what is needed is for the legislature to exercise its authority and pass Good Cause Eviction statewide in order to provide comprehensive and universal (residents) protections.”

Some are also frustrated at what they perceive as a lack of action by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who gave her first State of the State address earlier this month. Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All, in a prepared statement soon after the address called out the governor for saying “nothing about the Good Cause Eviction bill, which would allow four million currently unprotected renters to defend their homes.” The group is calling on Assembly and Senate leaders to intervene and pass the legislation.

Multifamily Operators Speak Out

CHIP’s Johnson acknowledged the proposed law is a priority of many members of the state Legislature.

“We’re aggressively talking to the rest of the state Legislature to make our case this is not going to solve the problems of housing in New York State. The main problem with housing is the lack of affordability which is due to the lack of supply. We believe this will increase the cost of housing and therefore reduce housing,” Johnson told Multi-Housing News.

Joseph Condon, general counsel at CHIP, gave the organization’s testimony during the Jan. 7 Senate hearing and noted that many of CHIP’s members have owned their properties for decades and often are generational owners and hands-on operators who know their residents and want them to be happy. He said they consider themselves housing advocates because they want housing policy that works for all.

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“Our members are not in the business of evicting (residents), nor are any housing providers,” he testified, noting many of their members worked with residents to apply for emergency rental aid programs, offered rent concessions, lowered rents, deferred rental payments and offered other ways for residents to stay in their homes while dealing with pandemic-related economic losses.

Lisa DeRosa, president of DeRosa Builders Inc., an owner and manager of three apartment buildings with about 400 units in White Plains, N.Y., is one of those generational owners. The business was started by her father who built the multifamily properties in their portfolio. DeRosa, who is also president of the Building and Realty Institute, a trade association serving the Hudson Valley, N.Y., area, said her family takes pride in how their buildings look and operate.

“You want to keep your good (residents) in place if you can,” she said, noting that when they choose not to renew a resident or break a lease it’s often because of residents who complained of problems with a bad one. DeRosa said the law as written would make it difficult to get rid of some of those.

“I should have the right decide who I want to do business with,” she told MHN.

DeRosa also said it could make it difficult for landlords, particularly those who own older properties, to maintain the buildings if they have to spend more money on legal fees and time away from their properties.

DeRosa, who testified at the Jan. 7 hearing, said she pointed out that the state has passed housing legislation in recent years like the state’s ERAP and New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act during the pandemic. In 2019, before pandemic hit, the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, which were series of provisions that strengthened tenant protections, was passed and signed into law.

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“We don’t know the cumulative effect of all these laws. The dust hasn’t settled,” she said.

Finger said the new law isn’t needed.

“The reality is that you cannot evict someone without good cause. You don’t need the legislature to pass some “Good Cause” law to protect (residents). You have the court system for that,” Finger said. “In order to evict a (resident) you need have full court proceedings. Notices upon notices have to be given to the (resident). The (resident) has the absolute right to have an attorney and these days, most (residents) have an attorney and if they can’t afford one, they have Legal Aid to represent them.”

But he noted the proposed legislation “would make it extremely difficult to end a tenancy if you don’t fit within the very limited categories” that would allow for an eviction, including failure to pay rent, violation of a substantial obligation of the tenancy, committing or permitting a nuisance, permitting the premises to be used for an illegal purpose.

Finger argues the law would put too many limits on landlords, including the ability to raise rents. He calls the proposed legislation “universal rent control” and notes the Consumer Price Index, rate of inflation, does not take into account everything that is connected to operating housing, such as property taxes.

“It’s an impossible burden you’re putting on landlords,” Finger said.