Showdown set on 'good cause eviction' amid state budget deadline, court fights
New York’s years-long fight for renter protection policies that would limit causes for evictions may reach its climax with the state budget due April 1.
In recent weeks, courts have hampered local laws in the Hudson Valley that require "good cause eviction," policies that generally limit eviction filings and how much landlords can increase rents. Opponents of good cause, however, say it hurts small property owners and is a disincentive to create more affordable housing.
Court rulings have indicated such local laws are a matter for the state, spurring progressive lawmakers to try to inject good cause eviction policies into the final state budget that the Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul are aiming to pass in two weeks.
On Tuesday, the Senate said in its one-house budget proposal that it “supports tenant protections that align with” good cause eviction’s core principles. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, told Capital Tonight on Wednesday that the Assembly's version supported the "essence" of the policy.
Meanwhile, Hochul has pushed for her landmark housing compact that would build 800,000 units of housing in the next decade. Now, the Legislature and Hochul must agree on a path forward for housing policies to include in the budget.
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“Unless we have a mechanism built into keeping people housed, we just won’t have enough affordable housing, no matter how much we build,” said Assemblymember Sarahana Shrestha, a freshman Democratic Socialist from Ulster County whose platform included good cause eviction. “Basically, we cannot build our way out of it.”
Unclear where Hochul stands
The current version of the bill limits landlords from evicting someone due to rent increases that exceed 3%, or are one-and-a-half times the local consumer price index that adjusts for inflation, whichever is higher.
The nonprofit Community Service Society of New York estimated about 1.6 million households — about half of all the state's renters — would be protected. Black New Yorkers and other people of color make up an outsized share of those who would stand to benefit from the proposal. A Senate sponsor memorandum indicates over two-thirds of Black families in the state rent, and Black households are three times more likely to face eviction than white families.
In an email, Hochul spokesperson Justin Henry didn’t indicate whether the governor supported the policy as it stood. Hochul's $227 billion budget proposal didn't include good cause eviction.
However, Henry wrote the governor’s budget plan “makes transformative investments to make New York more affordable, more livable and safer, and she looks forward to working with the legislature on a final budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers.”
California, New Jersey and Oregon have similar good cause eviction laws. In New York, several Hudson Valley cities, including Kingston, which Shrestha represents, have enacted good cause eviction laws. Such laws have also passed in Albany, Beacon, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, amid what advocates have called dramatic rent increases and spikes in eviction filings.
Rents, evictions on the rise
Proponents have cited spikes in eviction filings that are increasing to levels predating the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many governments enacted eviction moratoria. In 2019, for example, state court system data showed more than 262,000 eviction filings, compared to nearly 194,000 in 2022. Through March of 2023, there have been about 35,000 filings.
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Meanwhile, several regions have seen substantial rent increases. Kingston even sought to decrease rents in the city in November, but a state Supreme Court judge nullified the law.
In three rulings for Newburgh, Albany and Poughkeepsie, judges ruled that local good cause eviction laws conflicted with state laws. An Orange County judge struck down Newburgh's city law in December, before Albany and Poughkeepsie had their laws overturned in court in early March.
In Kingston, where the law appears to be in effect for now, local advocates said judges haven’t used the law to stave off evictions. They say a state law is needed to fully enact good cause eviction, particularly in Upstate regions with fewer renter protections than New York City.
“It would give the state more teeth to actually prosecute or go after illegal landlords who are kicking tenants out unjustly, without good cause,” said Tyler Vanderhaag, the Hudson Valley organizer for the advocacy organization Citizen Action, based in Kingston. ”And it’ll give more of a systemic backing of the bill in court for those systems so the judges can better understand what the laws are.”
Landlords say law would mean less housing
However, landlords said good cause eviction is an ideologically driven cause that would be a disincentive for the building of affordable housing.
“We're confident that common sense will prevail as lawmakers realize that Good Cause Eviction is an ideologically-driven pursuit by far-left socialists that does nothing to address the housing supply shortage,” said Greg Drilling, spokesperson for Homeowners for an Affordable New York, a coalition of property owners and realtors. It would, he said, “make finding an apartment more difficult and impossibly expensive for new renters."
In Albany, Kara Rafferty, president of the Apartment Professionals Trade Society of New York, celebrated the local good cause eviction law being struck down. Rafferty said it disincentivizes landlords from creating or investing in building. When there’s less housing stock, Rafferty said, “there’s less options for people to choose from which always drives up rents.”
“It’s a failed policy as written, and it’s not good for people and single-family houses that own,” she said.
When Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, D-Syracuse, first introduced good cause eviction legislation in 2019, she said she saw a dearth of affordable, habitable housing in the Central New York city she represents.
Rents were increasing beyond people’s salaries, even if they were good tenants. This was part of a national trend, she added. The pandemic only exacerbated it.
In a phone interview, she said the topic can’t be put off any longer.
“It created a conversation clearly that was never there before, and it also provides an opportunity, not just for dialogue, but for meaningful protections for residents who are very concerned with being forced out of their properties because of astronomical rents,” Hunter said. “Again, we've seen this across the country.”
Eduardo Cuevas covers race and justice for the USA TODAY Network of New York. He can be reached at EMCuevas1@gannett.com and followed on Twitter @eduardomcuevas.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Good cause eviction showdown set amid NY state budget talks