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Council adopts measure after months of discussion
Beacon became the fifth municipality in New York state on Monday (March 7) to enact “good-cause” eviction legislation.
The council voted 6-1 to adopt the law after a nearly four-hour public hearing that began on Feb. 22 and continued into Monday night. Residents who addressed the council about the measure voiced support by a 3-to-1 margin. Mayor Lee Kyriacou, who is a member of the council, voted “no,” saying he felt it would not help the renters who need assistance most.
Beacon joins Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Kingston and Albany in adopting the legislation. Officials in Albany are defending a lawsuit from landlords; Hudson adopted a law last year but its mayor vetoed it a month later.
The law exempts landlords who own fewer than four apartments and live on-site.
Among other provisions, it will require landlords to demonstrate “good cause” before a judge can begin eviction proceedings. Those causes could include 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.
If those circumstances don’t apply, the law requires landlords to allow leases to renew, potentially creating “forever” tenants.
Council members said that by establishing those provisions, the law would protect renters from intimidation and arbitrary eviction or rent increases following the end of the state’s moratorium on pandemic-related evictions on Jan. 15. One tenant testified on Monday that her landlord had, without warning, tried to raise her rent $750 after her comments in favor of the law at the Feb. 22 hearing.
City attorneys warned the council that they believe state law supersedes local tenant-landlord regulations, but several members said the benefits outweigh the risks — which include having to hire outside counsel to defend the city in the event of a lawsuit because its current attorneys said they would not participate.
Landlords argued that the law will lower property values while unfairly limiting what they can charge tenants when faced with rising costs such as maintenance.
There’s been debate about whether the law establishes rent control.
While it does not explicitly cap annual rent increases at 5 percent, in most cases, conditions must be met to exceed it. To go above that threshold, which the law describes as “unconscionable,” a landlord and tenant could agree to an increase or the landlord must demonstrate to a judge that it’s necessary.
The circumstances that warrant more than a 5 percent jump will include when a landlord has made capital improvements or insurance and taxes have increased significantly. A judge could also consider the most recent consumer price index for the northeast U.S., the frequency and amount of past increases, and/or the sales price if the building changes owners.
The city will not track rent prices, City Administrator Chris White said on Wednesday. Landlords and tenants will have to provide documentation in court.
After debating for months, the council remained divided on the efficacy of the law before the Monday vote.
Kyriacou said he was saddened that the arguments have done little to improve landlord-tenant relations. “If we’re picking a way to help renters, pitting one part of the community against the other is the wrong way to do this,” he said. The mayor said he would prefer a “means-tested” subsidy plan, such as the Dutchess County pandemic-relief program that provides rental assistance to low- and moderate-income households. “That is the correct approach. It’s something that we all, as a community, pay taxes to support,” he said.
But Beacon’s popularity has brought premium apartments to the city, where “there are plenty of renters who are fully capable of paying the full rents that are out there now,” he said. “That’s why those rents are out there. If we afford them the same rights [as low-income renters], they will push low-income renters out.”
Council Member Justice McCray, who represents Ward 2, disagreed, saying the good-cause law “is crucial to bringing racial justice to housing.” McCray noted that Black families rent more than whites and have historically been more vulnerable to eviction. “You don’t even have to look back 10 years to see the Black population of Beacon decrease,” he said. “It’s a painful reality, but that is a reality right now.”
George Mansfield, an at-large council member, said he would have preferred to see the Albany lawsuit resolved before the Beacon vote, but that could take months. Given the urgency, Mansfield said “my decision will be based on helping as many people and hurting as few” as possible.
Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair, of Ward 4, said on Tuesday that he hopes the city can move quickly to address other laws affecting affordability. He said he wants to increase the 10 percent below-market-rate component required of new developments of 10 or more units. The council could also investigate launching its own income-based subsidy program, developing affordable housing on city-owned property or adjusting zoning laws for creating accessory dwelling units.
The council will review the good-cause eviction law in June 2023.