At a town hall meeting championing Good Cause Eviction on Thursday night, an organizer with Make the Road New York asked a crowd of about 70 people how many of their families are renters.
Most people in attendance, tenants from Greenpoint and Williamsburg, raised their hands. So did the two speakers on stage — state Senator Julia Salazar, the sponsor of the statewide Good Cause bill, and Assembly Member Emily Gallagher.
Questions kept coming — how many people had avoided asking their landlords for repairs because they feared retaliation in the form of a rent increase or eviction? Dozens of hands went up. How many have faced a significant rent hike in the last five years? More hands.
The solution to those rent hikes and retaliations, is Good Cause Eviction, at least according to the housing organizers and politicians who organized the March 2 town hall in south Williamsburg. Hours before the event began, a judge tossed out Albany’s local version of Good Cause, which protects tenants from sudden evictions and increases too-high rents.
“What that means is it is even more urgent now for us to act at a state level to make a Good Cause law,” Salazar said. “Because there are towns and cities in different parts of the state who have tried to do it … they’re not able to actually implement it, because we haven’t acted yet at the state level.”
Lawmakers and activists push to pass Good Cause in the statehouse
Salazar’s proposed statewide Good Cause would mandate that landlords offer their market-rate tenants a new lease at the end of each term, and prevent them from evicting tenants without a “good cause,” like nonpayment of rent or causing damage to the apartment. The bill also caps annual rent increases at 1.5 percent of the current inflation rate or 3 percent, which ever is higher.
“Unfortunately, even for families who are working so hard to continue to pay their rent, if they live in an unregulated apartment, there is no guarantee that they will be able to stay when their lease expires, even if they do everything right as a tenants,” Salazar said. “The purpose of this bill is to provide housing security to anyone living in unregulated housing.”
The bill, which was first introduced in 2019, has repeatedly stalled out in the statehouse, despite growing support among lawmakers, tenants, and housing advocates.
In 2021, local Good Cause laws were passed in both Albany and Newburgh, but groups of landlords swiftly filed lawsuits against both cities, and the laws were tossed when judges ruled they violated existing state housing laws.
Effectively, until the state law is updated, no municipality can pass local protections without risking them being tossed out by the courts.
Local lawmakers have pushed Governor Hochul to speak up in support of the measure, and have even advocated for it to be included in the state budget. Hochul has shied away from speaking out on the bill one way or the other, and on Wednesday said her administration is focusing on her own housing plan.
“Every day in my office, we receive calls from constituents asking us ‘How can it be legal that my rent has been raised $500? How is it legal that I’m being told, after 20 years of living in my apartment, that I have to leave because the landlord now wants to charge $1,000 for my apartment?’” Gallagher said. “Every single day, we have to tell our constituents and our neighbors that ‘Unfortunately, there is not a lot we can do for you.’ Good Cause would change that.”
Rising rents and harassment have already displaced many Brooklynites
According to city data, more than 80 percent of housing units in Greenpoint and Williamsburg are occupied by tenants — and only about 35 percent of occupied rental units are rent-stabilized. Median monthly rent in Brooklyn Community District 1 increased by $830 between 2010 and 2019, according to the NYU Furman Center, from $1,290 to $2,120.
Under current housing law, it’s not uncommon for a landlord in a desirable neighborhood to end a current tenant’s lease in order to raise the rent and court new tenants with cash to burn.
Corporate landlord Greenbrook Partners has been buying up apartment buildings in Brooklyn in droves and either ending leases or imposing steep rent hikes. Some Greenbrook tenants have taken up the Good Cause fight, hoping to protect other tenants from predatory practices.
Luz Rosero, president of the United Neighbors Organization of northern Brooklyn, said the neighborhood has changed a lot over the last few decades — for the better, and for the worse. They’ve won the fight to build more truly affordable housing, she said, and to pass anti-tenant harassment laws.
At the same time, Rosero said in Spanish, many neighbors have been forced out of their homes by increased rent, harassment, and illegal deregulation of rent-regulated apartments.
“I have fought for several years to pass Good Cause,” she said. “We need this law this year because we are in a housing crisis and homeless crisis that grows worse each day. Good Cause will help us stabilize our neighborhood, it will help us help other families stay in their homes.”
Good Cause would not change anything for tenants of rent-regulated or rent-stabilized apartments, Salazar said. The law was specifically written to expand protections for those tenants already having to people living in market-rate apartments, and exclude landlord-occupied buildings with fewer than four units.
The law would also allow small landlords to end a current tenant’s lease if they are seeking to give the apartment to an immediate family member to live in. Lawmakers have tried to be accommodating to those property owners, Salazar said, though she clarified that the average New York City landlord owns about 900 units – few are truly “small.”
There’s a “very strong chance” Good Cause could get passed in the state budget on April 1, Gallagher said. If it was passed in the budget, it would skip past months of legislative bargaining, and would take effect immediately.
The pols urged their constituents to spread the word to their friends and neighbors, and to work to get their other elected officials — including the governor — on board.
“I guarantee, I can tell you with certainty, that Good Cause will have positive benefits,” Salazar said. “Each and every one of us knows at least one person who would positively benefit from this. It really is so important.”
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally ran in Brooklyn Paper. Click here to see the original story.