Over 500 tenants from advocacy organizations across New York State poured into the capitol building in Albany on Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to get the legislature to pass a bill this legislative session that would ban evictions in most cases, except where a tenant has violated their lease or when a landlord wishes to live in the unit.
The “Good Cause” bill in its current form would also mandate that landlords renew leases of tenants who are in good standing and would allow tenants to dispute rent hikes above a certain threshold. While New York’s legislative session ends at the end of June, the wording on any bills passed would need to be finalized by Monday.
Tenants gathered in the capitol and chanted, confronted legislators, and also threw paper airplanes down at lawmakers, each of which had a “rent story,” Housing Justice for All, the coalition of dozens of housing organizations behind the action, told Motherboard.
A potential deal to get a Good Cause bill passed as part of the state’s budget, which was finalized at the end of April, fell apart earlier this year. Large pieces of legislation like Good Cause often fare better during the budget process than during the rest of the legislative session. But it left a narrow opening for advocates to try to pass something in the last few weeks of the session.
“We think it’s really shameful that they could consider doing nothing,” Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator with Housing Justice For All, told Motherboard.
The coalition used their time at the capitol to speak directly to legislators as they roamed the hallways and in at least one case openly confronted them. In a video posted to twitter by the nonprofit Churches United For Fair Housing, part of the Housing Justice For all coalition, a tenant pleaded with State Senator Kevin Parker to support the legislation as he was surrounded by others chanting “Pass Good Cause!”
Weaver said tenants focused on Kevin Parker, who is a Democrat, because many constituents in his district—which covers a large swath of Flatbush in Brooklyn—are tenants who would benefit from the bill. The senator, who ran to be the city’s comptroller in 2021 but lost to Brad Lander, stopped short of supporting Good Cause despite saying he wants to do more to improve the housing crisis.
In a questionnaire he filled out in 2022 for The Tenant, Parker agreed with the statements “all evictions are bad” and “housing is a human right” but said he opposed Good Cause. In April, Housing Justice for All activists appeared at Parker’s house and accused him of “doing the bidding of big real estate and ignoring his constituents.”
In a video from the capitol shared with Motherboard, Parker tells organizers with New York Communities For Change that he opposes Good Cause because of its impact on small landlords.
“There’s not enough votes for it. I think we agree in the state legislature we need to do a lot more on tenant protections, but the way Good Cause is structured, unfortunately, it punishes many small landlords who are right now struggling to hold on to their properties,” Parker tells an advocate in the video. Later in the video Parker tells another constituent, “I have a lot of small landlords in my district, and a lot of them have come to me and said if you pass this, I’m going to have to sell my building.” Parker said that he’s in conversation with other legislators who are champions of the bill, including state senator Julia Salazar, and that he thinks legislators are “moving to a place where we will find some tenant protections.”
Parker’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
In another video posted by the immigrant advocacy group Make The Road NY, Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, addressing a crowd on Albany’s “Million Dollar Staircase,” a fixture of the capitol building where rallies and press conferences take place, said, “Some of my colleagues don’t think that tenant protections are important and think that this issue can wait till next year,” as tenants responded with a chorus of boo’s.
The bill as currently written would allow tenants to avoid eviction over rent increases that are either 1.5x the consumer price index, or 3 percent higher, whichever is greater. Weaver says legislators are still hammering out a percentage that would make its way into any final legislation. But she said the regulations on rent increases are not the most controversial aspect of the legislation; rather, it’s a clause that would allow tenants to have automatic lease renewals.
Real estate lobbyists and many landlords oppose Good Cause, which organizers have been trying to pass since 2019, the same year the state passed sweeping legislation closing loopholes that had previously allowed landlords to deregulate apartments. In 2022, the Real Estate Board of New York, referring to Good Cause as “universal rent control,” testified that it would “result in degraded housing quality over time and fewer affordable housing options on the market while failing to address real problems with a lack of code enforcement by local municipalities.”
Yet the legislation’s “rent control” function is not exactly stringent; in 2022,landlords would have been justified in raising rents between 7.65 percent and 10.05 percent, using the 12-month increases in the regional consumer price index. That’s above the 12 month average rise in rents in the region according to the Consumer Price Index.
Landlords can still legally raise rent beyond that threshold, but nonpayment of the difference in rent could not form the basis of an eviction proceeding under the legislation. The legislation gives tenants more leverage to negotiate rents, but with a shortage of affordable housing and a lack of tenant attorneys, it’s possible many tenants would still take their landlords’ offer rather than take their chances in court.
The legislation allows landlords to evict tenants for nonpayment of rent, “violation of a substantial obligation of the tenancy, committing or permitting a nuisance,” or “permitting the premises to be used for an illegal purpose.” It also allows the landlord to evict the tenant in order to live in the property as their primary residence.
Weaver believes pushback to the bill is mainly driven by people who don’t want property rights curtailed, rather than a practical impact on landlords.”It’s really not grounded in anything other than an ideological commitment to some sort of mythology around ownership,” she said. “It’s a quite light regulatory framework,” Weaver said of the legislation.
In a video shared by Make the Road NY, tenant Maria Sanchez spoke about growing up in New York City but not being able to afford rent, as well as living in an apartment overrun with pests. “You would think it would be easy to just go up to our landlord and complain. I wish it was that easy, because the last time my mother sat down with him in his luxurious office he threatened her and he told her that we would be evicted,” Sanchez said at the rally.
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