The bill would give tenants the right to a lease renewal in most cases and curb unlimited rent hikes in non-stabilized apartments. Incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is running for reelection next year, has not yet taken a firm position on the legislation.

Adi Talwar

New York gubernatorial candidate Letitia James called on state lawmakers to pass “Good Cause” eviction protections in a stump speech Saturday, separating herself from incumbent Gov. Kathy Hochul on a key priority for many tenants’ rights advocates.

The Good Cause bill would give tenants the right to a lease renewal in most cases and curb unlimited rent hikes in non-stabilized apartments. James announced her support during a speech to members of the Working Families Party at the Somos conference in Puerto Rico Saturday.

“I step before you as someone who was once in poverty…who was once evicted,” said James, the state attorney general, in a filmed speech shared with City Limits. “And so paying the rent — yeah rent is too damn high. So we’ve gotta talk about rent and housing and all the issues that we care about. Yes, we need to pass Good Cause eviction.”

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Julia Salazar and Syracuse Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, would specifically prevent property owners from evicting tenants in most cases without an order from a judge, even if that tenant’s lease has expired or they never had a lease. The legislation would also cap rent increases at 3 percent of the total, or 1.5 percent of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher. Tenants would be able to challenge higher rent raises, forcing landlords to justify the increase in court.

Many renters and their advocates say the measure is important for stopping landlords, especially large real estate firms, from purchasing buildings, jacking up rents on existing tenants and declining to renew leases for non-rent stabilized tenants. But small landlords and their representatives counter that the measure would punish them by capping revenues on unregulated units, which they say they need to earn income and offset expenses on rent-stabilized apartments. The bill would allow property owners to raise rents as high as they see fit on non-stabilized units once they become vacant.

James first expressed her support for the legislation in 2019 testimony before the state senate. Her campaign did not respond to questions about whether she supports the current version of the Good Cause bill.

READ MORE: NYC Tenants Reignite Push for ‘Good Cause’ Eviction Protections, Despite Landlord Opposition

A few municipalities in New York, including Albany, Hudson and Newburgh, have passed their own versions of Good Cause, but the 1971 Urstadt Law—named for real estate developer and former Housing Commissioner Charles Urstadt— prohibits New York City from enacting rent laws that are “more stringent or restrictive than those presently in effect.”

Some New York City tenant advocates have fought for years to repeal Urstadt, but progressive state lawmakers and an influential group of statewide organizers say they have embraced the Good Cause legislation because it affects renters across New York.

Legal Aid Society Staff Attorney Ellen Davidson said James’ support for the Good Cause bill, along with advocacy from another likely candidate for governor, New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, shows the growing momentum behind the measure.

“The fact that we now have two candidates who have come out in support of Good Cause is a sign that it is a popular idea that is supported by the voters and that they are reflecting the need to protect tenants in the state and the interest in putting tenants before real estate,” Davidson said.

About half of New York City apartments do not fall under rent-stabilization laws, allowing property owners to raise rents or deny lease renewals to existing tenants with 90 days notice. Some landlords say the ability to deny a new lease allows them to circumvent a lengthy housing court process and remove tenants who create problems in their buildings.

“The problem with Good Cause is it’s incredibly restrictive,” Small Property Owners of New York representative Ann Korchak told City Limits last month. “Not offering a renewal is a practice that can get rid of an untenable situation for every renter in the building.”

But Good Cause supporters say the current model incentivizes predatory real estate practices, such as a strategy deployed by the firm Green Brook Partners. As City Limits has reported, Green Brook has purchased a portfolio of Brooklyn buildings and raised rents or sought to kick out existing tenants.

Hochul, the incumbent governor, has not yet taken a definitive position on the Good Cause bill.

Her office told City Limits last month that she “is firmly committed to helping New Yorkers stay in their homes and will carefully review all legislation that reaches her desk.”