Albany Agenda

Progressives launch campaign to get upstate cities to opt in to ‘good cause’ law

The state budget’s “good cause” eviction protections only apply automatically to tenants in New York City, but other cities can choose to opt in to the regulations.

Members of For the Many rally with Newburgh elected officials after Newburgh opted into rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act.

Members of For the Many rally with Newburgh elected officials after Newburgh opted into rent stabilization under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act. For the Many

There wasn’t unanimous praise when the state Legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul came together on a housing deal. Housing advocates, labor unions, developers and landlords were seemingly united in their disappointment.

Lawmakers and housing advocates spent years pushing for “good cause” legislation sponsored by state Sen. Julia Salazar and Assembly Member Pamela Hunter. That bill would have prohibited evictions without a “good cause” and required landlords to justify any rent increases above 3%. In the end, budget negotiations left them with a version chock full of carve-outs and exemptions. 

While Salazar and Hunter’s bill would have covered all tenants in the state, the version of “good cause” included in the final budget deal only applied to tenants in New York City. Other cities must explicitly opt in to the law in order to receive the same protections. In the weeks since the state budget was approved, supporters of “good cause” eviction have begun eyeing a host of upstate municipalities that could opt in to the law. 

In years prior, some of these cities passed their own local “good cause” laws, but a 2022 state Supreme Court ruling found those to be in conflict with state law. Some cities moved to repeal “good cause” rather than face legal action. Now that the state has created a way for local municipalities to opt in to the state law, though, tenants from Newburgh to Rochester are eyeing ways to make “good cause” eviction a reality, and a few have a good shot of getting it done this summer.

The City of Kingston passed its own local “good cause” law in 2022 and could be among the first wave of cities to opt in to the state’s new “good cause” law. Brahvan Ranga, political director at the Hudson Valley-based progressive activist organization For the Many, told City & State that the city is one of their top priorities this year.

“Cities like Kingston were able to have the courage to pass local ‘good cause’ eviction laws,” he said. He’s now optimistic that Kingston, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Beacon and possibly Middletown will opt-in to the version of “good cause” passed by the state Legislature. From there, he said, For the Many plans to explore opt-in campaigns in other municipalities.

Housing Justice For All Campaign Coordinator Cea Weaver said housing advocates across the state are taking a targeted approach to growing the amount of “good cause” opt-ins. The first phase, she said, will target Hudson Valley cities like Newburgh and Poughkeepsie as well as Albany and Ithaca.

“These are places that we either have a pretty strong relationship with electeds on the council, or the places have already passed the (Emergency Tenant Protection Act), they’re majority-tenant cities, you know, we're not expecting a lot of political opposition,” said Weaver.

Once those cities opt-in, a second phase could see organizing in municipalities where tenants have organized with more pushback from local electeds, like Hudson, Middletown, Syracuse and Rochester. “There's some progressive political infrastructure, but it still will take some work,” Weaver said.

Other parts of New York, she said, are on a much longer timeline, like Buffalo or Long Island, and Weaver says an injection of progressive candidates and more tenant organizing are necessary. 

Upstate cities that opt in to the state’s “good cause” law have the option to tweak the law to cover even more tenants. Some municipalities who are planning to opt in are exploring changes to small property owner exemptions. In New York City, landlords who own 10 or fewer properties are exempt from the law, but some cities want to lower that threshold.

Katie Sims, co-chair of the Ithaca Tenants Union, said that the city’s common council, which is composed of a majority of tenants, is aligned on the issue. “It's kind of arbitrary on the tenant's part,” Sims said. “Like it's a protection for tenants, whether your landlord owns 10 or however many buildings doesn't really tell you anything about the tenant's deservingness of the protection, so we're really excited that they're planning on closing that loophole in the City of Ithaca.

Opponents of “good cause” eviction are not happy about the prospect of more cities opting in to the controversial law. Rich Lanzarone, executive director of the Hudson Valley Property Owners Association, said that “good cause” and other housing regulations are preventing a “tsunami of building” in New York. He has sued multiple city governments over housing legislation they have passed, most recently the City of Newburgh after it opted into the Emergency Tenant Protection Act in order to enact rent control measures.  

“New York State could solve is housing problem, one that has persisted particularly in New York City for 50 years without a solution, by eliminating all regulation and under that plan, people who are currently regulated would stay regulated as long as they live where they live, so they're protected,” Lanzarone said. 

Either Albany or Kingston is likely to become the first municipality to opt in to the state’s “good cause” eviction law later this summer, possibly as soon as July. Albany has the distinction of being the first city to pass its own local “good cause” law, back in 2021, though it was later struck down by the courts.

Canyon Ryan, the executive director of United Tenants of Albany, said the dynamic between tenants in Kingston and Albany is akin to a race, where tenants “want everyone to get to the finish line.” 

“It's kind of like a friendly competition, but also, we're all working to support each other. We talk regularly about, ‘What does this look like? How are your common council members receiving and responding to this?’” Ryan said. “We want to be the first because we were the first, and so we want to kind of maintain that title as the first city.”