As the New York deportations moratorium comes to an end, will Albany pass the “good cause” bill?

Hundreds of thousands of households across the state are already having to repay their rent due to the pandemic and face eviction when protections expire on January 15. landlords to dismiss a tenant without a judge’s order.

David Marque

The line in the Bronx Housing Court in 2015. Advocates fear the system will see a series of evictions soon, as state protections expire this month.

For 19 years José Bejar and Patricia Bejar lived on the first floor of a two-family house in Bayside, Queens. They paid rent on time every month, they say, even during the pandemic, when José’s salary was cut and monthly fees increased. They even bought their own heaters for the winter as well as kitchen floors, rugs and refrigerators.

But in August, they received a letter from the owner: they were due to leave in 90 days.

Bejar’s family paid their rent until October, when they decided to fight the eviction and demand reparations. They had no heating; the windows needed to be repaired; and they lacked a carbon monoxide detector, a stove and an oven. Last month, a Queens judge ordered the landlord to make the repairs, but the impending eviction process can begin once state tenant protection ends on January 15. with less than six dwellings, are not entitled to a new lease. Owners can order them without asking questions.

“We are in limbo. I don’t know what’s going to happen now, ”said Patricia Bejar.

A state law known as the Good Reason Eviction Bill would give tenants like the Béjars the right to a lease renewal in most cases, cap rent increases on existing tenants. and would prevent landlords from firing a tenant without a judge’s order, even if their lease has expired or they never had a lease. Landlords would have to prove a “good cause”, such as non-payment, to evict tenants.

The bill has emerged as a key demand from many tenant advocates, as homeowner groups have launched an aggressive campaign to kill the measure. It is one of the most high-profile fights Albany faces in this legislative session: Progressive Democrats want to embrace the good cause before the end of the New York deportations moratorium on Jan.15 and two Senate committees held a hearing on the measure which began on Friday morning.

It is not yet clear whether legislative leaders and officials will support the bill. Attorney General Letitia James and Lieutenant Governor Brian Benjamin both publicly backed the idea, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​sponsored a similar measure, but Assembly Speaker Carl did not. Heastie and Governor Kathy Hochul.

Some tenant advocates and influential lawmakers say they are hopeful that withdrawing their demands to extend the eviction moratorium might make Hochul and Heastie more supportive of the good cause.

Jose Bejar, a 78-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, said the legislation would help him and his wife keep their home. “We don’t have a lease but I can show you my bank account history and you’ll see I’m paying my rent by check,” he said.

The owner of Bejar and the law firm that represents him did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment on this story. Legal Aid’s senior Queens housing lawyer Sateesh Nori said the landlord spoke to him before hiring a lawyer and said he wanted the Bejars to come out so he could sell the building .

“Under the law, he doesn’t need any reason,” Nori said. “The only reason he needs is that there is no lease. “

Nori said landlords looking to sell their properties can force tenants to make properties more attractive to buyers. In other cases, new landlords may sharply increase rents or deny their tenants a new lease. This leaves tenants the victims of those home sales, Nori said.

“You can’t just kick someone out because of a business decision,” he added.

About half of New York City apartments do not fall under rent stabilization rules, and tens of thousands have been taken off stabilized listings since the 1990s, meaning these tenants have no guarantee of renewal. lease or dramatic rent increases.

Over 152,000 apartments with stabilized rents were deregulated from 1993 to 2018, and owners managed to remove 8,000 other units stabilization of rents via increases in vacant rents just before the entry into force of tenant protection in June 2019.

Landlords and their representatives fought the bill for a good cause, likening it to universal rent control that robs landlords of their property rights. They need to raise rents to cover the costs of a mortgage, increased property taxes and water bills, say members of the Small Property Owners of New York (SPONY) group.

“Good cause eviction legislation would compromise a small landlord’s ability to meet the basic costs of providing safe, quality housing to New Yorkers, ultimately reducing the supply of rental housing to a low. time when we really need more housing choices for people. , no less, ”said Joanna Wong, owner of Manhattan and member of SPONY.

“The small owners are at their end of the line,” added Lincoln Eccles, a Brooklyn owner and another member of the group.

But supporters of the bill say large corporate owners are the main beneficiaries of the current arrangement, which allows them to take over real estate portfolios and raise rents or evict tenants. A group of Brooklyn tenants gathered in October to mark the actions of their new owner, the company Greenbrook Partners, who decided to evict or raise the rents of residents of their new buildings.

At the rally, State Senator Brian Kavanagh, chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, said the bill would prevent investors from repossessing buildings and evicting tenants.

“You cannot be evicted from your home unless your landlord has good reason to do so. It’s a simple concept, ”Kavanagh said. “This idea of ​​for-profit eviction has been relatively new to New York over the past few decades. Many predatory investment firms have cut their teeth on this. Many have become thirsty for this kind of profit.

The bill could help tenants, especially low-income residents, at a precarious time across New York City: Hundreds of thousands of households are already facing rent payments due to the pandemic and facing eviction when coverage expires on January 15.

Good Cause wouldn’t help them pay their arrears, but it would prevent many tenants from losing their homes and further fueling a potential homelessness crisis.

A recent report from the Community Service Society (or CSS, a City Limits funder) found that rents continued to rise for low-income New Yorkers despite the pandemic, contradicting a popular narrative that rents have been rising. declined due to the crisis. The report, based on a survey of low-income renters, found that rents rose for 43% of people living below the federal poverty line, with the increases disproportionately impacting low-income tenants of color. Monthly prices rose for 49% of Asian renters and 41% of Black and Latin renters versus 32% of White renters, CSS found.

In the case of the Bejar family, their rent went from $ 1,900 to $ 2,100 in 2020, and even though José lost his full-time job and just got out of knee surgery, they still paid. .

“We even stopped eating, but we paid him the rent,” says José Bejar.

But that’s not the case for many New Yorkers. Statewide, 27% of low-income renters “have to pay rent, with black and Latino tenants, especially women, being the most at risk,” the CSS report reads.

The state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), designed to cover the bank rent of New Yorkers who owe due to the pandemic, has failed to cover about two-thirds of its nearly 300,000 applicants. There are already 192,000 requests for eviction for non-payment in housing courts, adds the CSS report.

READ MORE: Letitia James backs deportation bill for “good cause” in race for governor of New York

Meanwhile, 36% of low-income respondents and 22% of middle- and high-income respondents told CSS they feared losing their home when the moratorium expires.

“All indications suggest that if the moratorium on evictions expires, housing courts reopen, and no additional eviction protection and no rent relief is enacted, the impacts will be felt more severely by low-income tenants. income and communities of color, ”the report warns.

The approval of the Good Cause Eviction Bil is one of the recommendations made by CSS to stem the potential eviction crisis, along with the right to a statewide lawyer and a winter eviction moratorium like the one that has summer spent in seattle.

Good Cause protections already exist in a handful of cities in New York City, including Albany, which passed a version modeled on the state bill last year.

“The tenant should have some protection,” Nori said. “And I hope something like that happens in Albany, but we don’t know.” We hope.

Julio V. Miller