Rents are surging higher than pre-pandemic rates, prospective tenants are being thrust into bidding wars with other renters and those facing eye-popping rent increases no longer have the protection of a pandemic-era eviction moratorium that lapsed earlier this year.
Amid the chaotic housing market, more than a million renters across the state might have found some relief in the proposed “good cause” legislation sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar and other left-leaning lawmakers. The bill would have granted tenants the right to a lease renewal unless they’d failed to pay rent, violated their lease or caused some kind of nuisance — requiring landlords to evict people only with “good cause,” rather than simply to import higher-paying tenants.
But after a marathon day of conferencing and voting, the bill didn’t make it across the finish line in Albany.
“I am frustrated by inaction in Albany and I am angry and terrified for millions of New Yorkers who are going to face some pretty serious price-gouging in the next few months,” said Cea Weaver, with the Housing Justice for All Campaign — one of the coalitions of community groups pushing for the legislation.
Instead of voting on the good-cause measure, the state Senate passed a bill that would create a commission to study affordable housing. The Assembly was expected to pass a similar measure on Friday.
“A commission is not gonna keep families in their homes,” Weaver said.
On the Senate floor Thursday night, progressive lawmaker Jabari Brisport accused his colleagues of falling for a disinformation campaign backed by the real estate lobby. He voted against alternative legislation that created an affordable housing commission, calling it an “inexcusable abdication of our responsibility.”
“[The legislature] sat on a bill that would drastically improve housing stability for a huge percentage of New York’s most vulnerable tenants,” he said.
Among those the bill might have protected were tenants like Gerardo Vidal, a 49-year-old tour guide who lives in a one-bedroom apartment with his wife and two kids in Corona, Queens. Vidal’s landlord warned him his rent would increase by $900 to $2000 this month.
“It’s not logical … and I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Vidal said in Spanish, who added he planned to pay his old rent and see how his landlord reacted. He’d started to look for apartments, but everything was more than he could afford. “I’m going to see what comes next. I don’t know if they’re going to try to evict me.”
Spokespeople for the Assembly, Senate and the governor’s office didn’t return requests for comment right away.
The ‘good cause’ bill would have given an estimated 1.6 million market rate renters across New York similar protections to the ones rent-stabilized tenants in New York City currently enjoy — and the kind most New Jersey renters have had for decades.
In addition to eviction protections, the bill would have also protected against excessive rent increases of more than 3% or 150% of the Consumer Price Index, whichever was greater.
Most market-rate tenants, including an estimated 784,000 households in New York City, would have been protected by the bill. Though tenants in multi-family homes of less than four units, where the owner lives in the building, were exempted from the protections.
In negotiations among state lawmakers, the good-cause legislation was coupled with a proposed extension of the 421-a tax break, a subsidy ostensibly designed to encourage affordable housing. It allowed developers to forego standard property taxes for years, costing the city and state billions of dollars and subsidizing units that were at or even above market rate rents for single people earning up to $121,420. The real estate industry wanted the tax break extended, but progressive lawmakers got their way, with the Legislature allowing the provision to expire.
Tenant advocates say the reason they couldn’t get their other priority through the Albany meat grinder was simple: the real estate lobby.
Real estate groups had ramped up efforts to block the bill in recent months, arguing it would kneecap property owners and make it harder for them to maintain their buildings and send the price on vacant apartments through the roof.
“Real estate really decided this is what they wanted to stop because they don't want to give tenants the power to be able to stay in their homes, to be able to fight for better conditions,” said Andrea Shapiro, with the tenants rights group MET Council on Housing.
A report by the Housing Justice for All Coalition, published in April, found that the three major real estate lobbying groups — the Rent-Stabilization Association, the Community Housing Improvement Program and Real Estate Board of New York — spent more than $1.13 million lobbying legislators last year, and had funneled another $1.4 million through a group called Homeowners for an Affordable New York that was created to fight the good cause bill.
Ross M. Wallenstein, a spokesperson for Homeowners for An Affordable New York, told Gothamist that the proposal would be "bad policy for every region" of the state, and that "professional activists and tenant lobbyists" were unable to make their case because "there was no good case" for them to make.
"Their bill would have forced property tax hikes on single-family homes everywhere, devalued rental properties throughout New York, and done nothing to increase the availability of affordable housing," Wallenstein said. "This was another example of socialist legislators - mostly from New York City - trying to impose their agenda on the rest of the state, which ultimately would have hurt tenants as well. Despite blatant and heavy-handed intimidation tactics, their transparent power grab thankfully did not work."
The report also tracked more than $2 million in campaign contributions to legislators from RSA, CHIP, and REBNY and their board members since 2018.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign coffers have gotten a boost from real estate donors as well. By comparison, tenants rights groups pushing for the legislation typically operate on a shoestring budget.
“The money that [we were using] to fight for ‘good cause’ mainly goes to sandwiches,” Shapiro said.
It is just embarrassing to have to return to my constituents with nothing for them
A spokesperson for REBNY didn’t immediately return requests for comment.
Several people familiar with the negotiations said the hectic redistricting mess had sucked up much of the air in Albany, leaving little time for members to conference on other issues such as tenant protections. Some also suspected a fear of right-wing backlash leading up the midterm elections was keeping legislative leadership from broaching the ‘good cause’ bill.
“It is just embarrassing to have to return to my constituents with nothing for them,” said Assemblymember Emily Gallagher of Brooklyn, who pushed for the legislation.
“Every week we're getting multiple calls from constituents telling us that their rent is going up like $500, $700, $900 and saying, ‘How is this not illegal’, or ‘Is this illegal? What can I do?’” Gallagher said. “We have to tell them, ‘Unfortunately this is legal and I'm sorry, but you're going to have to basically try to negotiate with your landlord.’”
Tenants like Dorca Reynoso 48, an Inwood renter who’s lived in her apartment for 25 years, said she had pinned her hopes on remaining in her longtime apartment on the good cause legislation. Her landlord doubled her rent in 2014 and tried to evict her a few months before COVID-19. She’s been able to stay put due to the state’s eviction moratorium and now the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which buys her another year in which her landlord can’t take her to court. But after that, she said she fears the worst.
“Protecting landlords’ profits, protecting billionaires’ money is not what’s going to make the city better,” Reynoso said, adding she feared further housing instability will have an impact on public safety more broadly. “Poor people, people of color … our people are being removed from the city like we don't matter.”
Jon Campbell contributed reporting
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of the Consumer Price Index that would have been used as a cutoff for rent increases.
This story was updated to include a comment from Homeowners for An Affordable New York.