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Advocates for tenants' rights see hope for Good Cause Eviction Law in court ruling

Donna Robinson, who traveled from Buffalo to Rochester on Thursday, takes part in a rally at Rochester’s Hall of Justice, where advocates for renters in New York state are demanding that lawmakers pass legislation to protect renters by setting up a statewide rental subsidy program for low-income New Yorkers who are homeless, facing eviction, or at risk of losing their housing.
Max Schulte
Donna Robinson takes part in a rally on Dec. 15, 2022, at Rochester’s Hall of Justice where advocates for renters in New York state are demanding that lawmakers pass legislation to protect renters.

Housing advocates say now is the time to enact a proposed statewide law known as Good Cause Eviction, which gives tenants more rights in fighting evictions from landlords.

On Thursday, an appeals court struck down a similar local law in the city of Albany, saying it conflicted with statewide laws that regulate evictions. Albany is one of a handful of cities in the state that enacted their own Good Cause Eviction laws after the measure stagnated in the State Legislature.

Canyon Ryan, who runs United Tenants of Albany, said the ruling does not say that there’s anything wrong with the legislation, only that it can’t be enacted in a single municipality unless eviction laws for the entire state are changed.

“What this ruling does is accentuate the urgency and need for the state to do their job,” Ryan said. “There are tenants now in Albany who are already seeing their rents prospectively increased as a result of this ruling.”

Anna Leak is one of them. She said tenants in her complex are facing eviction because they can’t pay the “dramatically” higher rents that will be required after planned renovations. She said moving to a new place requires one month’s rent in advance and other fees that most of them can’t pay.

“Where can we go? Because we can't afford any other place to go,” Leak said. “We live here for a reason, because this is low-income.”

The advocates say millions of tenants across the state are facing similar no-cause evictions from landlords.

The groups, including the Legal Aid Society and Housing Justice for All, have been pressing for a statewide Good Cause Eviction law since 2019. And they have backing from the chairs of the State Legislature’s housing committees.

The measure would require landlords to justify rent increases of greater than 3% and gives tenants the power to challenge evictions that they believe are arbitrary, retaliatory or discriminatory.

Assembly Housing Chair Linda Rosenthal, who represents parts of the Upper West Side and Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, said she herself was a victim of an attempted eviction by a landlord.

“We need to pass Good Cause this year,” Rosenthal said. “We're talking about our fellow human beings who are being treated like a table you can just throw out of your apartment. And we also know that landlords can be ruthless and really don't care. That's why the law has to force them to abide by rules and regulations.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a plan to facilitate the building of 800,000 more housing units over the next several years to help ease the housing shortage. But she did not include the Good Cause Eviction measure as part of her plan.

When asked by reporters in Albany earlier this week, Hochul did not directly answer whether she supports the measure, saying instead that she wants to focus on the proposals she’s already laid out.

“We've put forth the plan that we're going to be working on this year already,” Hochul said on March 1.

Hochul’s plan, included in her budget proposal, would help builders put up more housing units quickly by strengthening the state’s ability to override restrictive local zoning laws and fast-tracking some environmental reviews.

Rosenthal said while it’s fine to build more housing, it’s more effective to help keep people in their existing homes.

Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh said the Good Cause measure needs to be part of any housing package that the governor and Legislature ultimately decide on.

“That comprehensive package will not be completed without basic tenant protections,” Kavanagh said.

The budget is due April 1.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.