Governor Kathy Hochul is facing pressure to back legislation that would give tenants the right to renew their leases in most cases — while limiting the ability of landlords to hike the rent — as New York’s eviction moratorium is set to expire on Saturday.
The statewide moratorium has been extended multiple times since it was first passed in the early days of the pandemic. But Hochul has said she will allow it to expire on Saturday, noting that it was never intended to be permanent. Instead of pushing for a new extension, tenant advocates have turned their attention to a state bill introduced in 2019 that would block landlords from evicting tenants unless there is “good cause,” such as failing to pay rent or otherwise breaching their lease.
More than 100 people marched through Midtown on Friday, dubbing Hochul the “Governor of Evictions” as they called on her to support the bill. Thirteen people were arrested for blocking the roadway outside her Manhattan office, according to police.
“I’m afraid that as soon as [the moratorium] ends, they may come and say, 'You know what, we’re taking this apartment from you,'” said Kim Statuto, a 61-year-old Bronx resident and member of the tenant group CASA, who was among the protesters Friday.
“What’s going to happen to me? Where am I going to go? The street, the shelter?" she said. "I’ve been on that route before. I don’t want to go back there.”
The legislation would also allow tenants to fight “unreasonable” rent increases, defined as 3% of the annual rent or 1.5% the rate of inflation – a provision that landlord groups say would effectively amount to a statewide rent control program.
As housing courts prepare to reopen next week, the bill has emerged as a rallying cry for New York’s tenant advocates, who frame the measure as a defense against the thousands of evictions they fear could proceed in the coming months.
The bill, which didn’t receive a vote in either of the last two legislative sessions, has the support of a majority of Democrats in both the state Assembly and Senate, but Hochul has declined to say if she supports the measure.
The bill would prevent landlords from removing any tenants without an order from a housing court judge, regardless of whether their lease is expired or ongoing.
The campaign for “Good Cause” comes as rents in parts of New York City are hitting their highest levels since the start of the pandemic. In December, median rent prices in Manhattan reached an all-time high for the month, according to data compiled by the brokerage firm Douglas Elliman.
At the same time, there are more than 225,000 active housing court cases, according to eviction data maintained by the Right to Counsel Coalition. Those cases will begin to move forward next week, as the moratorium ends.
But Joseph Strasberg, president of the pro-landlord Rent Stabilization Association, said fears of a tidal wave of evictions were overblown, citing the slow pace of housing court and desire of landlords to settle with tenants. He also warned there would be serious ramifications of passing “Good Cause,” including landlords being unable to maintain their apartments.
“It’s going to be a long process on our end of explaining the potential ramifications of this law,” he said. “Money is not going to be able to be put in for maintenance and tenants are going to suffer.”
The legislation has also emerged as a fault line in New York’s governor’s race.
At Friday’s rally, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who is challenging Hochul in November’s election, accused the governor of downplaying the impact of ending the moratorium.
“If you allow hundreds of thousands of people to be evicted, you are affecting the safety of all New Yorkers,” Williams told the crowd, touting the bill. “We have a new governor. We should have a new approach, but we don’t.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for Hochul, Avi Small, defended the governor’s track record of protecting tenants. He pointed to progress distributing rent aid, as well as a new proposal to build 10,000 units of supportive housing.
“Governor Hochul will continue working with the legislature to protect tenants and keep New Yorkers in their homes," Small said.