Packed House for Good-Cause Eviction

Beacon council to discuss law once more Feb. 28

The Beacon City Council held a marathon, two-and-a-half-hour public hearing Tuesday (Feb. 22) on a proposal that would require landlords to demonstrate “good cause” before a judge would consider eviction proceedings. 

Forty-eight people spoke, in person or via Zoom, with 3-to-1 favoring the proposal, which Beacon council members modeled on laws adopted recently in Newburgh, Poughkeepsie and a handful of other municipalities.

The standing-room-only crowd was, by far, the most to gather for a meeting in City Hall since the pandemic shutdown began nearly two years ago. 

The Arguments

YEA

Daniel Atonna: “I have a leaky roof, a moldy basement, but I’m worried if I complain to my landlord that I could get evicted. The people most opposed to good-cause eviction are a few greedy landlords who want to maintain a system of double-digit rent increases and arbitrary evictions.”

Jaheeme Griffin: “This is about community. This is about keeping the people who care about Beacon in Beacon. It’s nice to see new faces, but it’s disappointing to see those faces replace people as opposed to joining them. It’s not just people coming in to buy homes to live in. There are hedge funds, investment companies who are buying these homes with the purpose of creating profit. It’s not going to do anything for your city as far as creating community.”

Giselle Martinez (Newburgh City Council member): “I had families that were coming to ask for help because their rent was raised suddenly from $850 to $1,350. Tenants who came home from work one day and their locks were changed and their belongings were thrown out into the street. Many of these were tenants of color, came from an immigrant background and/or had a language barrier. To say the least, they were taken advantage of.”

NAY

Theresa Kraft: “Why would we force our small-time landlords, who are trying to make a living out of the equation [to abide by this law], when in turn they could sell to a bigger investor, who will only complicate it further? We need to focus on building true affordable housing and not continue with the 10 percent below-market-rate [requirement] in any further development. That formula is not working to the benefit of the residents who actually need it. The city should not allow Airbnbs and stop allowing developers and their silent partners to continue hiding behind LLCs.”

Nancy Rosaler: “What has brought us to this [place] is poor planning on the part of our city. The city has created, through the planning process, these luxury buildings that have come to town. It is upon the city to remedy some affordable housing options for tenants, but good-cause eviction is going down the wrong path of hurting the right landlords.”

Gail Wauford: “We’re not against people getting assistance if they feel like they’re being unjustly evicted [but, as landlords,] we will have to incur the cost of hiring an attorney if we need to raise rent because we need to do a major repair. It is our business, it is our livelihood. It supplements our low-wage jobs.”

The hearing was adjourned at 10:20 p.m., by a 5-2 vote, until March 7, when the council could vote to adopt the law or elect to take more public comment. If the council makes substantive changes to the draft law during its Feb. 28 workshop, it would not be able to vote until March 21, City Attorney Drew Gamils said. 

Council Members Justice McCray and Paloma Wake, advocates of the law before their election in November, voted against adjourning the hearing, saying they wanted to continue the discussion and potentially vote that night. 

“I didn’t hear anything in this hearing that changed my mind enough to say that I would change anything substantial in this law,” Wake said. “But I also recognize that if my other council members need more time to digest what we heard, I want to give you the space that you requested to do that.”

Dozens of people, not all of them from Beacon, urged the council to adopt the law. Many brought signs advocating tenants’ rights or wore stickers that read “Housing is a Human Right.” Some speakers told stories of landlords evicting tenants with no warning, leaving single parents and children homeless, while others cautioned that tenants everywhere are vulnerable since the state’s moratorium on pandemic-related evictions expired Jan. 15.

What Would Change?

■ All landlords would register their properties with the city;

■ Annual rent increases would be capped at 5 percent, except in certain instances, such as when a landlord makes capital improvements or the housing market changes significantly. A judge could also consider the consumer price index, the frequency and amount of past increases, and building sales price when an increase above 5 percent is requested;

■ Landlords would need “good cause” to evict someone, such as nonpayment of rent; violation of the terms of tenancy; interference with other tenants’ comfort or safety; health-and-safety violations; use of the apartment for an illegal purpose; refusal to grant a landlord access for repairs; or a landlord’s need to use the property for a family member or personal residence;

■ Only landlords who own fewer than four apartments who also live on-site would be exempt;

■ The law would be reviewed by the City Council in June 2023.

On the flip side, the owners of rental units in Beacon made the case that they shouldn’t be lumped in with “greedy, corporate” management companies. Small landlords who rely on rent income will be penalized by the law, they said, which would require them to hire attorneys to justify rent increases brought on by rising costs such as insurance or taxes outside of their control. 

The council appears set to move ahead despite attorneys’ warnings that the city lacks the authority to enact a good-cause law. 

City Attorney Nick Ward-Willis told the council in September that he believes a 2019 state law supersedes local regulations. On Jan. 31 he told the council that his firm could not defend the city if it adopts the good-cause law and is sued by landlords, as happened in Albany. 

A statewide good-cause law was introduced in the state Senate in 2020 and similar bills are being considered in the Legislature now. 

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