New York City

Assembly should pass ‘rent justice’ platform

The state Legislature can finally reverse decades of policymaking driven by the influence of the real estate industry and set standards in law for when evictions are appropriate, write Assembly members Catalina Cruz and Harvey Epstein.

A tenant protesting for affordable housing in 2015.

A tenant protesting for affordable housing in 2015. A Katz/Shutterstock

Tenants are suffering across New York state, and inadequate regulation is a big part of the reason why. For decades, rent laws have been weakened by the influence of the real estate industry.

Many of our constituents face skyrocketing rents, harassment from their landlords or forced displacement. Nearly half of our state’s 3.3 million renter households pay more than 30% of their income in rent, and 1 million renters live in counties with no protection from rent increases or eviction without good cause. Approximately 90,000 people are homeless in New York. In New York City, an average of 100 tenants are evicted from their homes each day.

Before we served in the Assembly, we were attorneys representing tenants against predatory landlords across New York City. We’ve practiced in Housing Court. As people who have worked to defend tenants, we know firsthand how the laws are designed to protect landlords. In case after case, our former clients faced harassment or rent hikes thanks to loopholes in the rent laws.

Now, as Assembly members, the principal complaints that our respective offices receive are about landlord harassment and the cost of rent. Too often, we have to tell the folks who voted us into office that their particular rent hike is legal, thanks to preferential rents or major capital improvements; or that because they aren’t rent-stabilized their landlord can evict them without cause. While we are fighting to provide constituent services to all of the people in our respective districts, even the best constituent services can’t protect tenants when the laws are designed to protect landlords.

A March Quinnipiac University poll showed that 41% of New York City residents think that they can’t afford to live here. The city is facing the potential of a mass exodus of low-income and working-class tenants – and it could very soon become too late to stop it.

However, this is a watershed year where we in the Assembly finally have the opportunity to reverse decades of policymaking driven by the influence of the real estate industry. New York state’s rent regulation laws will expire on June 15. Rent regulation has proved to be a cost-effective, scalable solution to the housing crisis that is devastating New York. We need to fix rent regulation so it can do what it is meant to do: stabilize tenants, and therefore communities, in the face of a massive housing crisis.

The housing crisis is not confined to New York City. New Yorkers across the state are calling for a comprehensive rent justice platform that addresses the affordable housing crisis from Long Island to Buffalo. Our package of bills will protect renters in rent-stabilized housing, unregulated tenants and those who live in mobile home communities. It would strengthen the rights of tenants in urban centers, rural areas and the suburbs.

Recently, the good cause eviction bill (S2892/A5030), which would give every tenant the right to a lease renewal, was removed from the bundle of rent bills before the state Legislature. We believe this bill, which seeks to protect tenants from unreasonable rent increases and lease terminations, was wrongfully removed and should be reinstated as a part of the bundle. By setting standards in law for when evictions are appropriate, renters will be protected from unfair practices that seek to evict them through no fault of their own. Tenants who pay their rent on time and lease responsibly should not be held to drastic rent increases or the refusal of a renewal.

It’s a new day in Albany, but it will not matter if our constituents can’t afford to stay in our communities. Strengthening tenants’ rights is our top priority for the remainder of the 2019 legislative session – it is clear that our constituents can’t wait. We will fight in the Assembly to eliminate rent hikes caused by major capital improvements and the preferential rent loophole; to eliminate the vacancy bonus and individual apartment improvement increases, which incentivize harassment as well as evictions; and to expand rent protections to millions of tenants, who currently don’t have any rights, by passing good cause eviction requirements and lifting geographic restrictions on rent stabilization. We must act now, before it is too late. This is not the year to sit on the sidelines.