City’s law could be latest in state to be ruled illegal
A Beacon landlord has challenged the city’s “good-cause” eviction law after a tenant refused to leave the Main Street apartment where he has lived for more than 20 years when his lease was not renewed.
If overturned, Beacon’s law would be the fifth of five such measures in the state to fall.
Eviction proceedings in Beacon City Court, which were largely frozen in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic shutdown, have returned to pre-COVID levels, according to a state database. There were 49 residential evictions in 2019, 55 in 2022 and 52 so far this year.
The eviction case, filed by Essential Invest LLC, which owns 455-457 Main St., is pending in City Court. Attorneys for the landlord and tenant are scheduled to meet with Judge Rebecca Mensch on Nov. 21.
In 2022, Beacon became the fifth municipality in New York to adopt a good-cause measure, following Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Kingston and Albany. The law, adopted two months after the expiration of the state’s moratorium on pandemic-related evictions, requires landlords to demonstrate “good cause” before a judge can begin eviction proceedings.
In Beacon, 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.
The law also sets conditions that must be met before a landlord can increase rent by more than 5 percent, such as capital improvements or a significant jump in insurance or taxes. The law exempts landlords who own fewer than four apartments and live on-site.
Housing advocates at the time called the municipalities’ laws a major win for tenants’ rights. There was also significant community support for the measure during two lengthy public hearings in Beacon.
However, the laws were quickly challenged in court. In Albany, the first municipality in the state to adopt a good-cause law, a state Supreme Court judge struck down the measure following a lawsuit filed by a group of landlords. In March, the decision was upheld by the state Apellate Division.
Landlords also sued in Newburgh; a state judge in Orange County declared that law invalid last year. Poughkeepsie’s fell in March. Kingston officials, in response to the spate of lawsuits, repealed their law in April.
Newburgh Can Enact Rent Stabilization
Study finds city qualifies for controls
The City of Newburgh this week released the results of a study that found a 3.93 percent vacancy rate among most buildings with six or more units built before 1974.
Because the number is less than 5 percent, the city could declare a housing emergency under the state Emergency Tenant Protection Act and adopt measures to control rent increases.
The study surveyed 68 properties and 738 units that would be eligible for rent stabilization. If the Newburgh City Council votes to declare an emergency and opt into rent stabilization, landlords of those properties would be temporarily barred from raising rents or evicting tenants without good cause. The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal would assist in the creation of a Rent Guidelines Board to vote on annual adjustments.
Newburgh could become the second city in the region to opt into rent stabilization, following Kingston last year. Its Rent Guidelines Board voted for a 15 percent rent reduction for eligible properties for 2022 and a rent freeze for 2023. The City of Poughkeepsie is also conducting a vacancy study.
Because the Emergency Tenant Protection Act applies to buildings with six or more units built before 1974 that have not been renovated, fewer than 120 apartments in Beacon would be eligible for the program.
As local good-cause laws began to fall in court, advocates intensified the push for a statewide measure, but Gov. Kathy Hochul did not include it in her 2023-24 budget.
The Beacon lawsuit is similar to the one in Poughkeepsie: A tenant refused to vacate after being notified that his lease would not be renewed. Attorney Robert Cusumano, who represents the Beacon landlord, Vinit Jobanputra, argued in August that the city’s law is “null and invalid as an unconstitutional expansion and intrusion by the Beacon City Council” into state housing laws.
When the City Council was considering the law in late 2021 and early 2022, its attorneys advised against passing it, saying it is superseded by state laws designed to protect renters. The council moved forward anyway, voting 6-1, with Mayor Lee Kyriacou dissenting, saying he felt it would not help the renters who need assistance most. The law included a provision that the council would review it in June of this year, but that did not happen.
Jobanputra, described by Cusumano as the owner of a “small, family-owned real-estate investment company,” purchased the Main Street property in 2022 for $1.5 million. The attorney said the building is in disrepair and that the tenant’s apartment “is in dire need of upgrade, repair and cleaning.”
At $850, the tenant’s rent is “well below” market rate, he told the court, with other tenants in the building paying two or three times that amount. According to court documents, the tenant, who is 73 and disabled, has received rental assistance through the Beacon Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher program.
In a deposition, Jobanputra said he notified the tenant on Feb. 22 that his lease would not be renewed after it expired on May 31. At the time of his testimony, Jobanputra said the tenant had remained in the apartment for nearly three months “for which we have not demanded or received rent.”
After renovations, Jobanputra said he hopes to “obtain market-based rent.” He added: “From what I understand, it would not be possible” for the tenant to pay that rate.
Nancy Brodey Koch of the nonprofit Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, who represents the tenant, argued that the landlord’s 90-day notice did not indicate a cause, such as a breach of the tenant’s lease, for the decision not to renew. Citing state law and precedent, in addition to the city’s good-cause law, the “tenant is entitled to a concise statement of the ultimate facts” upon which the eviction proceeding is based, she said.
Without that information, a tenant cannot prepare their defense, rendering the landlord’s notice “defective,” Koch said. She asked Mensch to dismiss the case and award “other further relief” as deemed appropriate.