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Landlords voice opposition to Good Cause Evictions bill after Hochul comment

During the pandemic, activists and tenants asked city and state officials to provide stronger eviction protections for renters.
Gino Fanelli
During the pandemic, activists and tenants asked city and state officials to provide stronger eviction protections for renters.

Some recent off-the-cuff comments by Governor Kathy Hochul on whether she might support a tenants’ rights measure known as the Good Cause Eviction law caused a stir among advocates and landlords.

But a spokeswoman for the governor said people shouldn’t read too much into it.

Hochul’s budget proposal includes an ambitious housing plan that would launch the building of up to 800,000 new homes over the next few years.

The housing committee chairs in the state Senate and the Assembly say they’d like to see the Good Cause Eviction legislation be part of the housing package. The measure would require landlords to justify rent increases of greater than 3% and gives tenants the power to challenge evictions that they believe are arbitrary, retaliatory or discriminatory.

Hochul has been noncommittal about the proposal. But at an event in Rochester on Tuesday, where she was listing the steps that she wants to take to increase affordable housing in New York, she seemed to tell an audience member that she is considering the idea.

“What about Good Cause Eviction protections?” the audience member asked.

“It’s on our list, too,” Hochul replied.

It was hard to hear the question from the audience member, a tenants’ rights advocate, and Hochul’s press secretary, Hazel Crampton-Hays said the governor did not fully catch what was being asked.

Crampton-Hays said the governor’s position has not changed, and Good Cause Eviction is not part of her housing plan. But she said the governor is “open” to talking to the Legislature about “any topic.”

Tenants’ rights advocates said they will keep pushing to get the provision included as part of a comprehensive housing plan.

But landlords groups said the measure would be an unfair burden to them and would work against Hochul’s goal of increasing the number of available homes to rent.

Matt Drouin, a landlord in Rochester who owns several rental units for low-income people, is a member of the Rochester Housing Coalition, which is made up of private owners, property managers and developers. He said Good Cause reflects a disconnect between the lives of the tenants and the realities of the costs of owning and maintaining affordable housing units.

Drouin said the requirement that landlords must justify a rent increase of more than 3%, would be de facto rent control and could lead to more substandard housing and landlords leaving the business altogether.

“Where this has deleterious effects is on housing choices for low-income people,” Drouin said. “Because I've already seen, post-pandemic, is that responsible housing providers that have provided naturally occurring, affordable housing are leaving the space. They're dumping their properties. And now, out-of-state and out-of-country investors are buying up these properties.”

And he said sometimes, unruly tenants are disruptive to other tenants in a building and a landlord needs to evict them or not renew their lease. He said Good Cause would limit that.

Drouin said any new measures to protect tenants also need to consider the role that landlords play in providing low-income housing and the financial risks involved. He said he would support a measure that also helps landlords deal with tenants who damage a unit or don’t pay back rent.

“Low-income housing needs to be de-risked for providers of housing for low-income people,” Drouin said. “Meaning if they do their job, and they do their job to the specification of whatever we set out to be, from a policy standpoint, that they should be guaranteed to be paid.”

Drouin said he believes that access to decent housing is a human right. But he said the state’s affordable housing system is “broken” and approving the Good Cause Eviction measure won’t fix it.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.