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Local reps push for ‘Good Cause’ tenant protections in New York's delayed budget

Ritti Singh, a housing justice advocate, speaks into a microphone flanked by local government officials in suits
Gino Fanelli
Local representatives and housing advocates are rallying behind a final push to get "Good Cause" eviction protections included in the state budget.

Local members of the state Assembly and Senate are making a final push to get tenant protections codified into state law, as this year’s budget lingers past deadline.

So-called Good Cause eviction protections have the support of both houses of the Legislature and are a potential piece of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s “Housing Compact.” That compact, a collection of bills set to address statewide housing issues, stands to be included in the upcoming budget, which is currently about two weeks past due.

The Good Cause bill, first introduced in 2019, prevents tenants from being evicted without a good reason, and from being displaced due to unreasonable rent increases or other scenarios in which the tenant is not at fault.

Assemblymembers Harry Bronson, Sarah Clark, and Demond Meeks are all sponsors of the bill in the Assembly, while Sen. Samra Brouk is a sponsor of the Senate bill.

“Housing is a human right, and we must do everything in our power to make sure that everyone, everyone has a place to lay their head and a place to call home,” Bronson said at a news conference Wednesday. “That’s what Good Cause is all about — it’s about equity and fairness.”

The Good Cause bill has been a controversial piece of legislation, largely rallied for by tenant and housing rights organizations but opposed by landlords, including the Rochester Housing Coalition, an advocacy group of landlords.

The group argues that Good Cause will make it impossible to evict unruly tenants, trap landlords in indefinite leases, and lead to more difficulty in tenants finding stable housing.

“Housing providers will be forced to scrutinize applicants even further in order to avoid placing a tenant that disturbs the neighbors and proves difficult to evict under this legislation, resulting in higher rents and fewer housing opportunities for low-income tenants, who are the most in need of housing,” the coalition’s policy position reads.

But Bronson and Meeks argued that framing the bill as protecting problem tenants is a misnomer, and that the bill simply codifies the grounds for which a person can be evicted. That, Meeks said, can prevent unethical practices from landlords.

“It’s one thing to have a good person in a position of power, but it’s another thing to have a contract, to have it in writing, and that’s what we’re advocating for with Good Cause eviction,” Meeks said. “There may be some good players, but not all players are good.”

When asked if they would support the Housing Compact if Good Cause is not concluded, Bronson said he would, due to the number of other worthwhile bills included. Meeks responded with a simple “no.”

The Good Cause legislation outlines seven scenarios in which a legal eviction can occur, including if a tenant fails to pay rent in certain circumstances, violates the terms of the lease, or creates a nuisance.

A similar bill was introduced last year by the Rochester City Council and failed to pass. Albany’s Good Cause bill, meanwhile, was struck down by an Appellate Court ruling last month.

Good Cause protections are not unheard of nationally. New Jersey, for example, has had a just cause eviction bill on the books since 1974. However, that doesn’t mean evictions do not happen in New Jersey. A report for the Housing and Community Development Corporation of New Jersey projected that about 13.5% of New Jersey renters were at risk of eviction last year.

Bronson said the core purpose of Good Cause is to ensure a level playing field, in which tenants cannot be removed without a good reason while landlords hold the right to recourse against problem tenants.

“What Good Cause does is codifies a process that recognizes the human right to housing, but also recognizes the landlord’s property rights,” Bronson said.

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.