Landlords and tenants are dealing with the ripple effects of New York state’s updated rent laws.
Housing attorney Nicholas Miraglia, from Burgess & Miraglia, specializes in evictions. He said that he handled more than 3,000 evictions in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse last year and noted three key changes for renters.
The first change is how landlords can demand late rent. Under the old laws, a landlord could simply ask for late rent and that would be considered a legal warning. Now, a landlord needs to hire someone to serve a notice to a tenant, telling them they have two weeks to pay or they’re headed to court.
“The only thing at this point now recoverable is base rent only,” said Miraglia.
That means if a tenant is taken to court, a landlord can no longer ask the tenant to cover a landlord’s legal or late fees, the second key change in the laws.
The final key change can stop an eviction. If the tenant can’t settle on an arrangement with the landlord in court, they can pay the base rent without late fees, and not be evicted.
“The tenant could say oh… I have the thousand dollars that I was supposed to have a month ago and by law the whole thing starts over again,” said Miraglia.
He also noted that with those new laws the landlords are on the hook for their own legal fees, and costs to serve notice to tenants. They also lose out on late payment fees, which landlords may have used to pay bills for those properties. If tenants pay late, then the landlord may be late with their payments.
“There’s no corresponding changes for landlords to pay their bills 14 days late,” said Miraglia. “You know their mortgage is always going to be due on the first. Their water, their gas bills. So 14 days seems a little extreme to me. It was an emergency, overnight,apparently. These laws were passed with very little if any time for feedback. And I think that the changes were too drastic.”
Housing advocate Ryan Acuff of Rochester’s Citywide Tenant Union thinks all the changes are a good start toward housing justice.
“People are starting to realize that when our tenants have basic rights the community benefits as a whole,” said Acuff. “This emergency tenant protection act will work with habitability issues because tenants will have more protections against unjust evictions.”
But for Acuff and other advocates for housing rights, the new laws are not enough.
“You know there’s no one law or one thing that’s going to achieve total stability or housing as a human right so we need this and many other tenant protections,” said Acuff.
The revised rent laws will allow some cities and towns to create their own rent guidelines board and laws. Acuff is pushing for both.
Whether Rochester qualifies to make its own rent laws is in dispute. According to the latest census data said the city’s vacancy rate sits at 7.6%, but Acuff thinks it's actually below the 5 percent threshold which would give Rochester the option to create its own rent laws.