Tenants who believe they may be covered by New York’s new Good Cause Eviction Law can plug in their current rent to see the maximum rent that would be deemed reasonable. Anything above that, the landlord could have to justify in court.

Adi Talwar

Apartment buildings in upper Manhattan.

When it comes to New York’s newly-minted Good Cause Eviction Law, there are a lot of unknowns.

In general, covered tenants in New York City should be able to stay in their apartments from year to year without fear of sudden upheaval, so long as they’ve kept up with their rent and lease terms. Tenants can also dispute rent hikes above a certain level—this year, 8.82 percent—though landlords can try to justify larger increases in court.

The law, which serves market-rate tenants, is also rife with carve outs, including a 30-year exemption for buildings constructed since 2009. Owner-occupied buildings with up to 10 units are also exempt, as are buildings owned individually or collectively by “small landlords,” who have a stake in no more than 10 apartments statewide, potentially across multiple properties. 

Tenants whose rent exceeds a specific threshold are also excluded from the protections. The threshold is pegged to 245 percent of the local Fair Market Rent, and varies based on apartment size. This year, it’s $5,846 for a studio, $6,005 for a one-bedroom, $6,742 for a two-bedroom, $8,413 for a three-bedroom, and $9,065 for a four-bedroom. 

Adding another wrinkle, even though the law took effect April 20, landlords aren’t obligated to notify tenants if they’re covered by Good Cause—in paperwork accompanying leases and housing court or rent increase notices—until Aug. 18. 

In an effort to help New Yorkers navigate at least part of this complicated terrain, City Limits has created a simple rent calculator. Tenants who believe they may be covered by Good Cause can plug in their current rent to see the maximum increase that would be deemed reasonable under the law. 

Anything above that, your landlord may have to justify in court. Just be mindful of the high-rent threshold—surpass it, and you’re out of luck. 

Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, offered a scenario in which the tool might come in handy: a tenant lives in a building with at least 11 units that predates 2009 (you can check that here), and is notified of a rent increase over 8.82 percent, which is 5 percent plus the change in the regional Consumer Price Index (CPI) from 2022 to 2023.  

“Those people don’t have to do a lot of research into their landlords to figure out if they’re covered,” she said. “The first thing I would do is just write back to your landlord and say, ‘Hey, there’s this new law, I’m covered by it, this rent increase is too high.’”

Tenants in smaller buildings may have a harder time determining their landlord’s eligibility, given the prevalence of Limited Liability Company, or LLC, ownership. But Davidson suggested JustFix’s Who Owns What tool as a way to start exploring a landlord’s holdings. 

She also acknowledged that landlords may not be responsive to direct communication, and warned that tenants should be prepared to be sued for eviction, landing the dispute in a borough-based housing court. New York City’s Right to Counsel law is supposed to provide free lawyers to low-income tenants, but it’s currently stretched thin

“To the extent that you are faced with a very big rent increase that you think is unreasonable, and your landlord won’t speak to you, one thing you might do is put aside that additional money, so that when you go to court, if you do not win the case, you have the ability to pay your landlord,” she added. “That is, you know, the safest way to do things. Which not everybody can do.” 

The Good Cause law is also written in such a way that landlords can potentially justify an increase in excess of 8.82 percent. (Homes and Community Renewal will have to update that percentage threshold next year, on or before Aug. 1, 2025, reflecting the CPI change from 2023 to 2024 but not exceeding 10 percent.)  

Courts can consider “all relevant facts,” the law states, including property taxes, fuel, insurance and maintenance costs. Landlords can also point to “significant repairs” they’ve done to the building—non-cosmetic work like electrical and plumbing replacements and lead or asbestos removal. 

The law seeks to exclude bad faith attempts to raise the rent, stating that the work can’t stem from the landlord failing to maintain their building properly. 

That means it’s in a tenant’s best interest to keep a close eye on the conditions in their building, according to Davidson. “Is there a leak that starts small and they call their landlord and three months later their landlord comes and patches it up?” she said. “That’s obviously not how you handle a leak.” 

Lisa Faham-Selzer, who represents landlords at the firm Kucker Marino Winiarsky & Bittens LLP, predicted that this part of the law will be “heavily litigated.” 

“Let’s say I want to raise the rent 10 percent and they [the tenant] are saying that’s unreasonable,” she said. “And I say this is not unreasonable because I did all of this work and the building has not been in complete disrepair.” 

Rather than go to court, landlords might just increase rents by 8.82 percent across the board, she added: “I feel that every landlord is going to be compelled to raise the rent to the max threshold, right? Because what if next year it’s lower?” 

Chris Janaro

Tenants at a rally in April pressing for passing of the Good Cause bill.

Faham-Selzer likened the Good Cause law to the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act (HSTPA), a multi-part 2019 law that made it more difficult for landlords to exit rent stabilization, a separate long standing regime that puts a hard cap on annual rent adjustments for about 1 million New York City apartments. 

“We litigated the HSTPA to figure out what the law should be interpreted as, we’re still litigating it to this day, and I think the same thing is going to happen here,” she said. 

In the meantime, she’s urging her clients to inform tenants of their Good Cause coverage status, before the notice rules officially kick in: “If my clients are drafting leases today they’re adding them onto leases today.”

Tenants who believe they are covered by Good Cause but are nervous about how to proceed should start talking to their neighbors, said Esteban Girón, an organizer with the Crown Heights Tenant Union. 

“When you’re acting as one unit, just like if you’re doing collective bargaining with labor [unions], you can share information,” he said. “You can have a lawyer come in and talk to your whole building.” 

This moment is both exciting and frustrating for tenants who can now fight large rent hikes for the first time, according to Girón. 

“I think there’s potential for a sort of budding of a new phase of the tenant movement,” he said. But facing a large rent increase that’s “presumed” unreasonable—even though a judge could be convinced otherwise—isn’t as reassuring or straightforward as an explicit maximum allowable adjustment, which is what stabilized tenants get. 

The language in the law—“it shall be a rebuttable presumption that the rent… is unreasonable”—just “doesn’t sound as sexy as a right,” Girón said.

To reach the reporter behind this story, contact Emma@citylimits.org. To reach the editor, contact Jeanmarie@citylimits.org

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