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Politics and Government

Tenant advocates in Syracuse push lawmakers to pass 'good cause' rent reform

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Palmer Harvey (left) at hearing at Syracuse City Hall on rent reform

A series of rent reform bills are being considered in the New York State Legislature, and some of the proposed laws could affect upstate municipalities. Tenant advocates made their case to expand renter protections at two recent public hearings in Syracuse.  

The bill that advocates said will have the greatest impact on cities like Syracuse, is the “good cause” measure, which protects tenants against arbitrary evictions and unconscionable rent hikes.  It’s a bill sponsored by Syracuse Assemblywoman Pam Hunter.

Rebecca Garrard with Citizen Action and the Housing Justice for All Coalition, spoke to Syracuse Common Councilors at a hearing on a resolution calling on Albany to pass “good cause.” Garrard said 40 percent of white residents and more than 50 percent of residents of color in Syracuse are rent burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

“We believe it directly correlates to the extreme rise in homelessness we’ve seen in this state since 2010, which has risen by 36 percent," Garrard said. "Because people who are rent burdened are put in situations where they are one car repair, one sickness, one job loss away from homelessness.”

Palmer Harvey with Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today Southside, described the situation as a quiet epidemic. She said tenants shouldn’t be afraid to report bad living conditions. Retaliatory eviction is prohibited by law if a person makes a complaint to code enforcement, but not if they make a complaint to a landlord. “Good cause,” would change that.

“The type of conditions that they’re living in is just appalling," Harvey said. "Why do you want to stay here? One of the reasons they give back is well, I can’t really afford to move and the only reason why I withheld rent is because my landlord didn’t fix this or that or x, y, z. It’s beyond ridiculous to me they even collect rent for what they’re living in.”

But some on the council questioned if these reforms are needed, prompting Councilor Latoya Allen to hold the resolution. At a State Senate public hearing on the rent reform bills, held in Syracuse, Allen said she was almost disgusted she had to put the resolution on hold.

“If my rent goes up $50, I can’t afford it anymore," Allen said. "So that means now, I’m put in a position where I have to move. I know there are so many other people that have to deal with this on a daily basis.”

Legislators are expected to act before New York City’s rent laws expire on June 15.