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Rockland County Will Hold An Affordable Housing Forum on April 21
By Rick Tannenbaum
Good cause eviction. Rent control. Scary terms for realtors, developers, landlords and investors. Lifelines for advocates of affordable housing, tenants, the elderly, and disabled.
Two wrinkles in existing landlord-tenant relations — “good cause eviction” and “rent control/stabilization” — have found their way to the Hudson Valley with mixed results.
Good cause eviction laws passed in Poughkeepsie, Newburgh, Kingston, Beacon, and Albany. Though the laws vary slightly and many have been challenged successfully in court, landlords would be prohibited from evicting a tenant without “good cause.” Refusing to pay rent, engaging in illegal activities, or damaging the property are examples of good cause.
However, in some of the local laws, refusal to pay rent may be justified if the rent increase was “unconscionable” or unsupported by an increase in taxes or repairs. Poughkeepsie’s version of the law capped rent increases at 5 percent per year (unless the landlord good show good cause for a larger increase).
Other versions of the law blocked landlords from evicting tenants on the basis of an expired lease or removing month-to-month tenants who had no lease, so long as they kept up with rent and didn’t engage in illegal or nuisance behavior.
Despite these efforts by tenants’ rights activists and progressive municipal governments, various courts have tossed the laws in Newburgh, Albany and Poughkeepsie largely based on a legal doctrine called preemption. Preemption precludes a municipal government from passing laws that are already fully addressed by state law. In Poughkeepsie, the losers were an 87-year old woman and a mother of a two-year old who lost in court after seeking protection under the City’s good cause eviction law.
An appellate Court affirmed the illegality of the Albany good cause eviction law after it was tossed. One part of the law that survived requires landlords be in compliance with rental registries as a prerequisite for evicting a tenant from an unregistered apartment.
The law in Newburgh met the same preemption fate in court. The appellate decision in Albany put good cause eviction laws around the state in jeopardy, despite the laws still standing in Beacon and Kingston. Having the laws “preempted” by state law may actually provide the impetus for good cause evictions to become the law in New York State. Governor Hochul and the legislature have recognized a housing crisis and in particular an affordable housing crisis. Housing advocacy groups are pushing for statewide tenant protections to be included in the April 1st statewide budget.
In a version of the law being considered in the New York Assembly, tenants would be able to challenge nonpayment eviction filings if their rent increased more than 3 percent in a year, or 1.5 times the annual percentage change in the consumer price index. The law would also exempt owner-occupied residential properties with fewer than four units.
Rent stabilization is a different matter. New York’s Emergency Tenant Protection Act and its Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (which was formerly limited to NYC and select suburbs) now allows any municipality in New York State to apply rent stabilization laws in their jurisdiction. Narrow in scope, the law allows government-imposed rent control in buildings of six or more units built before 1974.
Kingston recently passed its own version of rent stabilization and sought to impose a 15 percent rent reduction. The rent reduction was tossed by the court, but the challenge to rent stabilization survived. To impose stabilization or controls, the municipality must show a vacancy rate below 5 percent and declare a “housing emergency” to opt into the statewide program. Kingston was the first upstate municipality to opt in.
In Rockland County, the Town of Haverstraw and the Village of Spring Valley have already declared emergencies and have rent control boards. Orange County does not have any participation, and in Westchester, more than 20 local governments have passed resolutions to participate in the program.
Rockland County is planning an Affordable Housing Forum for April 21st. Ed Day, in his State of the County address earlier this month recognized the dire need for more affordable housing in the county. For now, change can only happen at the town and/or village levels where projects are approved or rejected by local planning boards and zoning boards of appeal.
A version of this column originally appeared in Rick Tannenbaum’s Substack.