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City to reconsider Good Cause eviction protections

Good Cause eviction protections would limit some landlords ability to remove tenants without a solid reason, and ensure a tenant in good standing the right to renew a lease.
Gino Fanelli/WXXI News
Good Cause eviction protections would limit some landlords ability to remove tenants without a solid reason, and ensure a tenant in good standing the right to renew a lease.

A change in state law has spurred the Rochester City Council to reconsider adopting so-called Good Cause tenant protections.

Gov. Kathy Hochul signed off on a Good Cause bill in April as part of the state’s 2025 budget, officially enacting the policy in New York City. Other cities were able to opt in later. The City Council legislation, introduced Thursday, is a carbon copy of the provisions outlined in the New York state bill, and protects a tenant from unwarranted eviction or non-renewal of a lease.

The bill also aims to curb rent spikes by disallowing non-payment of “unreasonable” rent increases as a reason for eviction. Unreasonable is defined as a rent increase of 10% or the annual urban Consumer Price Index plus 5%, whichever is less.

There are a total of 11 categories for which a person can be evicted.

The terms on which a person can be evicted include non-payment of rent, violating terms of a lease, creating a nuisance in the unit, causing damage, interfering with comfort and safety of other tenants, occupancy violations, use of the unit for an illegal person, unreasonably refusing the landlord access, refusal to agree with a reasonable rent increase, the unit being taken off market, or the unit being used by the landlord or a family member.

The bill is slated to be held in Council committee, and likely not go to a vote for several months.

“We’ve heard from tenants, we’ve heard from landlords about the struggles in the housing market,” Council President Miguel Meléndez said. “This is another opportunity for us to have a conversation. Remember, this is up for consideration, nothing is passed. This is a chance for us to be a deliberative body.”

Meléndez said he plans for Council to have public input sessions on the bill in the coming months.

The bill also has many exceptions of what properties qualify. For example, a rental unit that got its certificate of occupancy after Jan. 1, 2009, would not qualify, nor if the landlord owned less than 10 properties in New York. High-value rental units, at 245% or more of fair market rent, would also be disqualified from the protections.

Those exemptions, and several others, were negotiated during this year’s budget hearings in the New York legislature, laser-focusing the bill to target large, longstanding landlords. Housing advocates have been critical of the approved version of Good Cause. New York Housing Justice for All, a statewide housing advocacy group which has long rallied for Good Cause protections, had called the bill a “gutting” of previous versions of legislation.

“(The bill is) a slap in the face that would fail to address the housing crisis, while ensuring the real estate industry keeps getting richer off the backs of hardworking tenants,” the organization said, in a statement.

City Council considered its own version of Good Cause in 2022, responding to longstanding demands from housing activists and similar bills being introduced in other upstate cities. That bill ultimately failed. At the time, opposing Councilmembers, including Meléndez, expressed concern that the bill would open the city up to lawsuits that it likely would lose. The change in state law opened a window for the city to explore the protections again.

Councilmember Stanley Martin was one of three sponsors of the 2022 bill, alongside Councilmembers Mary Lupien and Kim Smith. She said seeing the policy pass through the state, and go before Council again, is a victory.

“(We thought) let’s do it, let’s fight. At that point it was a no,” Martin said. “But the tenant movement and organizers kept coming to Council, kept talking about the issue.”

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.