Good-cause eviction law may follow
The Beacon City Council is expected on Tuesday (Jan. 18) — three days after the state’s moratorium on pandemic-related evictions expires — to approve a contract to provide free legal aid to renters, but a “good-cause” eviction law championed by several of its members is farther away.
The city set aside $25,000 in its 2022 budget for the tenant advocacy initiative. The funding will pay for a paralegal from Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, an organization that provides free counsel to people with lower incomes, to address tenant issues in Beacon for 10 hours each week.
Rachel Saunders, the attorney-in-charge of LSHV’s Poughkeepsie office, told the council during its Jan. 10 meeting that the person will help Beacon residents faced with eviction organize and mount a legal defense. Beacon’s two city court judges, Greg Johnston and Rebecca Mensch, preside over eviction proceedings, and they will be able to refer tenants to the program, as well.
Together, the tenant advocacy initiative and good-cause eviction legislation, if it’s adopted, make up a renters’ protection package that the previous City Council and newly installed members Wren Longno, Justice McCray, Molly Rhodes and Paloma Wake have advocated for months.
Good-cause laws, all more or less modeled after a stalled 2020 state bill, were adopted in Albany, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie last year. In Hudson, Mayor Kamal Johnson vetoed a good-cause law adopted by the Common Council in October. A second version of the measure failed to pass last month.
The Village of New Paltz postponed voting on measures addressing unfair evictions and predatory rent increases on Wednesday; Kingston’s City Council passed a good-cause law during a meeting on Thursday.
The laws regulate rent increases and restrict landlords from arbitrarily deciding not to renew leases. With the Emergency Tenant Protection Act’s rent stabilization unlikely to apply to most Beacon apartments, good-cause legistlation emerged last year as the city’s primary means of protecting renters.
The Beacon council began its discussion of a law in earnest on Monday night, deliberating for more than an hour.
One question is whether to exempt landlords who depend on rent from a handful of tenants as their income or who live on-site. The council seemed willing to exclude landlords renting four or fewer units, although McCray asked: “The idea is to require good cause for eviction. Why should anyone be exempt?”
Beacon’s current draft would prevent “unconscionable” rent increases of more than 5 percent. On Monday, the council debated whether higher increases should be allowed under certain circumstances, such as when a landlord makes improvements to a building or if the rental market changes significantly.
Mayor Lee Kyriacou said he believes a 2019 state tenant protection measure checks those boxes. “Is there tenant protection in this [good-cause law] that doesn’t already exist?” he asked. “I don’t see anything other than rent control and permanent leases. What does this add?”
The difference, City Attorney Drew Gamils explained, is that the law being considered requires landlords to prove “good cause” before removing a tenant.
City Administrator Chris White also asked the council to consider including a sunset provision allowing the law to expire after a given amount of time, likely between one and two years, so the city can evaluate its effectiveness. Landlords unhappy with the legislation may be less likely to file a lawsuit, he said, if they see that clause.
“I’m trying to find a way to minimize the possibility of litigation, which is costly to the city,” White said.
After several months of nearly constant calls from advocates to adopt good-cause legislation, the council has heard increasingly from property owners who believe the law would be unfair. Jon Miller, a business and apartment owner, said during the Jan. 3 meeting that he would have no other choice but to raise rents on his tenants before a law goes into effect.
“Investors will stop investing in our city if they are not permitted to get the rents” that their costs justify, he said. “Our real-estate market will plummet. Beacon has come a long way, and we don’t want to go back to the way things were.”
The council will review its draft at least once more in a workshop before holding a public hearing. With no meeting on Jan. 24 (the council skips the fourth Monday during months with five Mondays), the earliest a law could be adopted would be mid-to-late February.
Although the state evictions moratorium expires on Saturday (Jan. 15), Saunders said she doesn’t expect a deluge of tenants being forced from their homes. Not immediately, at least. “There’s going to be a lag,” she said. “It’s not like on the 16th there’s going to be this floodgate of cases, but it’s going to ramp up very quickly.”
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