City judge rules measure is unconstitutional
City Court Judge Rebecca Mensch has ruled that Beacon’s “good-cause” eviction law is unconstitutional, invalidating the fifth of five such laws to be adopted in New York state over the last two years.
Mensch issued her ruling Nov. 17 as part of a denial of a Main Street resident’s motion to dismiss an eviction proceeding. The landlord, identified in court documents as 201-211 Main St. LLC, went to court in July when the tenant refused to vacate his apartment after being given 90 days’ notice that his lease would not be renewed.
The Nov. 17 decision provides no further details on that dispute. While some details are similar, this is not the case that first challenged the good-cause eviction law in City Court. That case, also filed in July and involving a 73-year-old Main Street tenant, is pending.
Because of Mensch’s decision, neither tenant (nor others in the future) will be able to use the good-cause law as a defense against eviction. The attorneys in both disputes are scheduled to meet with Mensch on Dec. 12. Nancy Brodey Koch of the nonprofit Legal Services of the Hudson Valley represents both tenants.
Beacon is not the only municipality to have adopted a good-cause law that was challenged in court. Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, Kingston and Albany all passed similar laws in the same timeframe, as the state’s moratorium on pandemic-related evictions was expiring.
Like the others, Beacon’s law, enacted in March 2022, required landlords to demonstrate “good cause” before a judge could begin eviction proceedings. It set forth a number of situations, including nonpayment of rent or violation of the terms of tenancy, as valid causes for eviction. It also set conditions that must be met before a landlord could increase rent by more than 5 percent.
It is unclear whether the City Council will rescind the law. According to court documents, city attorneys were notified of the challenge to the good-cause legislation but did not file any arguments on the city’s behalf supporting its constitutionality.
Beacon attorneys warned the council last year that the good-cause measure was superseded by New York’s landlord-tenant regulations, and said they would not defend the law if it was challenged in court.
Albany’s law, the first in the state, also was the first to be challenged when a group of landlords sued the city. They, too, argued that state laws preempt local legislation. A state Supreme Court judge agreed and struck down the measure; the decision was upheld by an appeals court in March.
Landlords also sued in Newburgh. Last year, a state judge in Orange County declared that law invalid for the same reason, although the city has appealed. Poughkeepsie’s law fell in March. Kingston officials, in response to the lawsuits, repealed their law in April.
Mensch’s decision notes that those “nearly identical local laws” have already been struck down and acknowledges that trial courts such as Beacon’s must follow those precedents. In addition, the Beacon judge recognized that the city’s law includes the same language that the appellate court ruled in the Albany case is preempted by state law.
The appellate court also found that the good-cause requirements contradict state property law by imposing restrictions other than the written notice the state requires a landlord to give a tenant for a lease that is not being renewed.
As in the other Beacon case, the tenant argued to Mensch that the landlord’s notice was defective because it did not cite a cause for the decision not to renew the tenant’s lease. But Beacon’s good-cause legislation “does not supplement state law, instead it places greater restrictions on property owners seeking to evict a tenant,” rendering it unconstitutional, null and void, Mensch wrote.
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