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Upstate communities given choice over tenant protections in state budget

The New York State Capitol in Albany
Lucas Willard
The New York State Capitol in Albany

New York state lawmakers found compromise on so-called Good Cause Eviction legislation in the recently-signed state budget. It will be up to upstate communities to opt-in to the tenant protections.

The Good Cause Eviction legislation passed in the state budget would limit rent increases to the Consumer Price Index plus 5 percent, or 10 percent, whichever is less. The law also gives landlords criteria they must abide by when evicting a tenant.

The law automatically applies to New York City, but other municipalities would have to pass a local law to “opt-in” to the program.

This week, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called the new law a compromise.

“You know, in this world and in this life, sometimes you have to compromise. And that's where we came up with a compromise. Not everybody's happy. But usually when everybody's not happy when there's cause for compromise, you probably did something along the lines of the right thing,” said Heastie.

Some advocates say the new law doesn’t go far enough, while opponentslabel Good Cause as an attack on private property rights.

Democratic State Senator Michelle Hinchey of the Hudson Valley said the compromise offers flexibility.

“New York City has one level of protections and communities, for us, our communities can opt in, and they can change the threshold. So, there's actually more flexibility for communities outside the city, which is incredible. I think that's a huge win for our areas, because they can set the owner-occupied levels, the FMR levels, the portfolio levels. They can do that depending on what is best for their community,” said Hinchey.

Democratic Kingston Mayor Steve Noble is also welcoming the state legislation. Kingston was one of a handful of New York cities to pass its own Good Cause eviction law before the state took up the issue.

“That later came out in court that it needed to be a state issue to deal with, and so, as the Mayor of Kingston, I’m happy that the state was able to tackle this issue,” said Noble.

Noble said the city will begin discussing the state legislation in May. He said the Good Cause law has less red tape than other legislation meant to control housing prices, like the state’s Emergency Tenant Protection Act. Kingston’s adoption of the ETPA was upheld in state appellate court in March.

“This program is really, relatively straightforward, as long as the landlord follow the couple of rules and regulations related to rent increases. All of the rest of this bill does is it basically makes sure that tenants know, also, what they need to do to be able to stay in good standing in their apartment,” said Noble.

Renters in Hudson, like in Kingston, have faced sharp increases in housing prices in recent years. Democratic Mayor Kamal Johnson is also welcoming the state’s Good Cause law, but…

“I felt like it was watered down. I think it still puts the onus on local municipalities, who, this was the issue that we dealt with before, it's when we have LLCs and people who can afford to kind of push the angles making it hard for tenants. It puts a lot of pressure on the legislators to get this done,” said Johnson.

Other mayors are not as familiar with the Good Cause law. In Schenectady, Democratic Mayor Gary McCarthy told WAMC he hadn’t looked at the new law, nor spoken to members of the city council about passing home rule legislation. But McCarthy did have one request for state lawmakers…

“I need the state legislature to act on a request that we have for home rule legislation, so that we get compliance with our landlord registry before anybody can start an eviction proceeding. That would give me more practical applications to manage distressed property within the city,” said McCarthy.

Senator Hinchey acknowledged there may be work to do in communicating with municipalities about the new law. And there’s one housing bill that was not included in the final state budget deal that she said needs to be addressed in the conversation about controlling prices – establishing a registry for short-term rentals.

“You cannot have that conversation without short-term rentals, so we have to do some more education to make sure everyone understands that,” said Hinchey.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.