As elected officials attempt to hammer out a housing deal before the state’s budget deadline at the end of the month, advocates want lawmakers to know they’re still fighting for tenant protections that aren’t watered down.

Good Cause rally in Albany

Chris Janaro

Tenant organizers with the Housing Justice for All Coalition rallying at the Capitol building in Albany on March 19, 2024.

During Tuesday’s early morning hours, tenants and housing organizers from across the state climbed aboard buses bound for Albany.

Drawing a crowd of over a thousand, advocates paraded through the corridors of the Capitol while others picketed at the main escalator in an act of civil disobedience.

Their plea to legislators was clear: to defend tenants’ rights during ongoing budget negotiations by demanding any new residential development deal include comprehensive, statewide “good cause” protections.

Sponsored by State Sen. Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, the bill would offer tenants new defenses against eviction and rent increases above a certain level—3 percent, or 150 percent of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher—so long as they keep up with their rent and do not engage in nuisance behavior.

“[Currently], a landlord doesn’t need a ‘good cause’ to evict a tenant who is in unregulated housing, which is the vast majority of rental housing in New York,” Salazar explained in an interview with City Limits at the end of February.

“What good cause would do is give tenants a defense in court,” she added. “It would seek to bring stability to communities as we’re facing a housing crisis. Housing is becoming really increasingly unaffordable for working people in New York State.”

Chris Janaro

Landlords would still be able to evict tenants who violated their leases or fell behind on rent, unless a court deemed the rent unreasonably high. The legislation also exempts owner-occupied buildings with fewer than four units.

But while progressive members of the legislature have sought to pass the bill for several years now, it’s faced fierce opposition from landlord and real estate groups, who say it would make it harder for building owners to keep up with maintenance costs and impede private sector investment in new development.

Some localities around the state, including the city of Albany, have passed local versions of the law only to have them struck down by legal challenges.

Above: Lawmakers and housing advocates held signs throughout the Capitol building. Photos by Chris Janaro.

Anna Leak, a tenant from Albany who rallied at the Capitol Tuesday, recounted her experience dealing with the aftermath of her building’s sale, which led to a halt in maintenance services and a surge in rent prices. Elder tenants in her building faced harassment, some being pressured for old rent receipts and threatened with eviction notices by the new landlords, she said.

It was only through collective organizing and legal action, operating under the protection of their local good cause law, that they managed to temporarily halt the rent hikes. But in March of last year, the tenant protections were struck down in court, and almost immediately, Leak  says, the rent increases began again, as high as double what they had been paying.

“All the previous tenants that have lived there were evicted one by one and in groups over the whole period of about a year,” said Leak, adding that she was recently served with a 90-day eviction notice herself due to a non-lease renewal.

“We were protected, and now we’re not. People are frightened to complain about maintenance issues because they are afraid that they would be evicted or next on the list,” she said.

Chris Janaro

Tenant organizers with the Housing Justice for All Coalition rallying at the Capitol building in Albany on March 19, 2024.

As lawmakers negotiate the state’s next budget, good cause supporters are looking to incorporate the bill into a grand housing deal that combines new development incentives with tenant protections. 

While developers are eager to bring back 421-a, a lapsed tax incentive for residential developers who include affordable housing in their projects, tenant advocates have long held that the benefit gave too much for too little, setting the stage for a potential compromise.  

But it’s still unclear how much of a compromise both sides are willing to make. Good cause supporters have pushed back against passing a watered down version of the bill, such as one that allows localities to opt into the legislation in lieu of statewide protections.

“Tenants across the state deserve protections against unreasonably high rent increases and being evicted for no good reason. The existing Good Cause eviction bill is strong public policy,” Salazar said in a statement to City Limits this week. “We are actively discussing the details, including the rent increase thresholds and the applicability of these protections in communities statewide.”

According to a recent report from Housing Justice For All (HJFA), the real estate industry spent almost $14 million lobbying in the state since 2019, including against good cause.

“The real estate industry is the most powerful lobby in the state, and for the past five years they have focused that power on fighting to preserve their ability to price-gouge tenants and evict families at-will,” said Cea Weaver, coalition director of HJFA in a statement. “It’s time that state lawmakers stand up to the real estate industry and deliver for tenants all over the state who are struggling to stay in their homes.”

In addition to good cause, those who took part in Tuesday’s rally are pushing for passage of the Housing Access Voucher Program, which would create a new state rental subsidy for New Yorkers experiencing or at risk of homelessness, as well as a bill that would make it easier for tenants to purchase their buildings.  

Chris Janaro

At one point during the rally, the police shut down power to the escalators in the Capitol building to stop the picket.

Housing advocates point to rising rent and real estate costs around the state as New York grapples with an affordable housing shortage, and the city’s homeless shelter population remains historically high

At one point during the rally, the police shut down power to the escalators in the Capitol building to stop the picket, but advocates, undeterred, continued climbing and descending the steps. No arrests were made.

By 3:30 p.m., tenant advocates climbed back aboard their respective buses to head home as renters across the state—who make up a little less than half the population—anxiously await the budget deadline at the end of the month.

Left: Protestors on the Capitol building escalators. Right: Steven Espinoza, Dahyana Mesa Escanio, and Samantha Bravo of Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes’ office on the bus to Albany. Photos by Chris Janaro.

“Good cause eviction is the floor, not the ceiling,” Queens State Sen. Jessica Ramos said earlier in the day, speaking to rally goers at the Capitol.

 “Any housing bill that comes out of this building must have good cause with it.”

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