Albany Agenda

Who are real estate lobbyists talking to in New York?

A new Housing Justice for All report breaks down the influence peddling.

State Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh was a top target of real estate lobbyists.

State Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh was a top target of real estate lobbyists. NYS Senate Media Services

A new report from a left-leaning tenant advocacy organization shows that the real estate lobby spent $13.6 million between 2019 and 2023 on campaigning and direct lobbying of New York state lawmakers, contacting 10 of them nearly 6,000 times. 

The report from Housing Justice for All relies on publicly available lobbying data and focuses on lobbying from six of the state’s most influential real estate groups: the Real Estate Board of New York, Homeowners for an Affordable New York, Taxpayers for an Affordable NY, Community Housing Improvement Program, Rent Stabilization Association of NYC, and the NYS Association of Realtors.

“Good cause” eviction, a sticking point in housing negotiations over the past several years, was one of the most lobbied policies. The report found that 1,000 of the lobbying meetings were focused on the bill. “Good cause” eviction would make it more difficult to evict lease-abiding tenants in buildings with more than four units and require landlords to justify rent increases above 3%.

Of the more than $13 million spent, the report says that real estate interests spent $5.9 million on messaging and campaigns, and $3.78 million of the total was spent specifically on advertising. Housing Justice for All Campaign Coordinator Cea Weaver said some New Yorkers have received misleading mailers that imply that “good cause” eviction would hurt them as homeowners.

“When people hear about what ‘good cause’ actually does, they support it,” Weaver said. “Two–thirds of voters support ‘good cause.’ People want neighborhood stability, they want their neighbors who are renters to get to stay.”

The report found that real estate lobbyists representing those groups met with the Executive Chamber, Program and Counsel (the Legislature’s central staff), and state Senate Housing Committee Chair Brian Kavanagh, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins the most. 

Hochul’s staff stressed that she would meet with anyone willing to find a solution to the state’s housing crisis, including housing advocates in opposition to real estate interests.

“In the two and a half years since Governor Hochul took office, she’s met with labor leaders, NYCHA residents, tenant leaders, builders and developers, local elected officials and advocacy groups to discuss solutions to New York’s housing crisis and she's ready to work with anyone who is serious about making progress on these critical issues,”  Hochul spokesperon Avi Small said.

Kavanagh, a staunch advocate for tenant protections, was the individual lawmaker they contacted the most, 731 times, more than either Stewart-Cousins or Heastie, who also support forms of tenant protections. The Executive Chamber led the list, with 1,243 lobbying contacts. 

“As the Housing Committee chair, it’s part of Senator Kavanagh’s job to talk with everyone with an interest in these and many other housing topics, whether he agrees or disagrees with them,” said Kavanagh spokesperson Stanley Davis. “And understanding what everyone is saying is one of the things that makes Senator Kavanagh so effective.”

State Sens. Leroy Comrie, Kevin Parker and James Skoufis, who Weaver called the “REBNY Caucus,” are also top targets for meetings. Comrie, Parker and Skoufis were contacted by real estate lobbyists 430, 261 and 260 times respectively. All three oppose “good cause” eviction and have had run-ins with Housing Justice for All. The group protested outside of Parker’s home last year and Comrie’s office in 2019. Skoufis told the New York Post Housing Justice for All advocates were “obnoxious.” Skoufis and Parker did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

“They’re major barriers in the state Senate,” Weaver said. 

Much of the criticism of “good cause” eviction and similar tenant protection legislation is that it harms small landlords and discourages housing development in communities that need it. It also has to do with the political leanings and tactics of its proponents. 

"Housing Justice for All and their lobbyists proudly collaborate with communists, bully, threaten and lie to lawmakers and reporters, and openly state that ‘propagandizing’ is key to their advocacy efforts,” a spokesperson for Homeowners for an Affordable New York said in a statement. “They are an existential threat to New York State and homeowners statewide, and you better believe that concerned New Yorkers are going to stand up to their extremist proposals that would worsen the housing crisis, bankrupt financial institutions and make New York the least desirable place to live or do business."

Hochul in her State of the State address said that the state needed more housing construction rather than more regulation. Stewart-Cousins has been pushing for a more balanced solution with both features as budget negotiations progress. 

Comrie scoffed at the idea that his thinking on tenant protections was being swayed by lobbyists. He said he arrived at his stance independently.

“I have an open door policy with everybody,” Comrie said. “If you look at the amount of meetings that I take, I’m taking meetings with any entity that wants to talk about housing.”

He said “good cause” eviction would only reduce minority home ownership in his district by incentivizing people to not pay their rent, citing examples of violent altercations between landlords and tenants over rent collection. 

Weaver said she doesn’t expect the spending and campaigning from the real estate lobby to end anytime soon, at least not as long as housing advocates continue to push for reform and regulations. 

“I think that this is an example of different organized groups of people – we have the organized people, they have organized money – sort of clashing in the arena of the state government,” Weaver said. “So in 2025 I would like to think that our tenant movement is going to keep growing.”