As state judges strike down city-level “good cause” eviction laws across the state, local officials are looking to state leaders to approve the tenant protections for the whole of New York. In a letter shared exclusively with City & State, over 50 city and county elected officials are calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to approve the legislation as part of the state budget.
The so-called “good cause” eviction law is meant to provide tenants living in non-rent regulated apartments additional protections against unjust evictions and has languished for years in the state Legislature. The main point of contention is the provision that a landlord can’t evict a tenant for not paying an “unconscionable” rent increase, effectively placing a cap on yearly rent increases unless the landlord wants to risk going to court. With strong opposition from landlord groups, the bill has never passed in either chamber.
Local laws defeated in court
Until recently, the protections had far more success at the local level, with cities including Albany, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Kingston and Beacon approving their own version of the law for residents. But state judges have struck down the laws in Albany, Newburgh and most recently Poughkeepsie, in each case ruling that only the state had the authority to enact the tenant protections. “This letter is that last ditch effort to say ‘Look, we’ve done everything that we could do at a local level,’” Hudson Mayor Kamal Johnson, one of the signatories, told City & State. The protections passed in his city in 2021, but he originally vetoed the legislation to allow lawmakers to make additional tweaks to the law. It never passed the second time around. “We as localities need state support when it comes to these issues.”
The letter, which was organized by the advocacy groups Housing Justice for All and Local Progress, charges that opponents of “good cause” “inaccurately and dangerously claim that this is a local issue to be determined by local governments.” In an attempt to combat that claim, a number of municipalities attempted to authorize the protections while awaiting state action. And the recent court decisions striking down those laws have left officials like Rochester City Council Member-at-Large Kim Smith, another signer, feeling frustrated. “Each of us were elected into these positions to represent the people,” Smith told City & State. “And you would think that we would at least have the power to legislate.” But she added that the judicial rulings have proven that despite the best efforts of local lawmakers, action has to happen at the state level.
The letter also claims that many tenants who had relied on “good cause” protections in the cities where the law has now been overturned are at risk of losing their homes. “As local elected officials from across the state who have been fighting to help our constituents keep a roof over their heads, we find our hands tied by the court’s decision,” the letter reads. “The panic now felt by the residents of Albany, Poughkeepsie, and Newburgh could have been prevented if the State had passed Good Cause last legislative session.”
State leaders mum
Passage is far from a sure thing, despite a growing number of state lawmakers offering support for the bill. None of the three state leaders addressed in the letter have publicly taken a position on the issue, while Hochul excluded it from her executive budget. At a recent press conference, tenant advocates saw a glimmer of hope when the governor appeared to say that “good cause” was on her radar. But in a follow up statement, her spokesperson Hazel Crampton-Hays said that “the Governor's position on that proposal hasn't changed – it is not part of her housing plan. She is always open to discussions with the legislature on any topic.”
Spokespeople for Stewart-Cousins and Heastie did not immediately return a request for comment, but neither have stated support for the proposal. When asked about it at a press conference last month, Stewart-Cousins expressed support for tenant protections in general, but would not say whether she would back “good cause” legislation specifically.
The bill also still has staunch opposition from real estate and landlord groups. Leading the charge is the group Homeowners for an Affordable New York, a coalition of organizations representing both small and large landlords and other real estate interests. The legislation would not impact owner-occupied buildings with fewer than three units. “Good Cause Eviction is an ideologically-driven pursuit by far-left socialists that does nothing to address the housing supply shortage and would, in fact, make finding an apartment more difficult and impossibly expensive for new renters,” said Greg Drilling, a spokesperson for Homeowners for an Affordable New York. “New Yorkers need lawmakers to ease the burden of creating and maintaining housing, not to make it more difficult.”