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One Way to Fight Against Unfair Landlords

Good Cause eviction is one critical way to keep people in their homes.

Protesters in New York City rallying for Good Cause Eviction

With little time left in this year’s legislative session and our state eviction moratorium expired, the stakes couldn’t be higher for New Yorkers seeking safe, stable, and affordable housing. If the state legislature does not act to help renters stay in their homes, tens of thousands of New Yorkers could face eviction in the coming months.

Housing prices are on the rise in New York City, with rents reaching or exceeding pre-pandemic peaks in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Even relatively affordable upstate cities like Albany are currently seeing massive rent spikes. Following the end of the COVID-19 evictions moratorium in January 2022, evictions are once again increasing nationwide and New York City legal service organizations report they are overwhelmed by the rising caseload.

Stable housing provides a foundation for employment, civic participation, health, education, and childhood well-being. The positive impact of housing stability on childhood health and well-being is well documented in social science research. For all these reasons, the NYCLU believes housing is a right – and protecting people’s right to stable housing requires fair rules and due process before that right is taken away.

Yet, for the majority of renters in New York today, their landlord can choose to end their tenancy arbitrarily by refusing to renew their lease or by jacking up the rent to unsustainable levels, even if they have done nothing wrong. That means renters can lose their housing if their landlord decides to sell their building, or if they ask their landlord to make too many repairs, or for no reason at all.

Good Cause Eviction

For this reason, renters, housing advocates, and many legislators throughout New York State are united behind passing the Good Cause Evictions bill this legislative session.

The Good Cause Evictions bill means just that: if you’re a renter in New York State, your landlord must have a good reason to evict you. These reasons include a failure to pay rent, violating the terms of the lease, and creating a nuisance, among other causes detailed in the bill.

Critically, under Good Cause, tenants have the right to a lease renewal and their landlords must justify a rent increase of more than five percent in court.

Following in the footsteps of similar laws in California and Oregon, Good Cause would extend protections to about 1.6 million renters throughout New York State, nearly half the state’s renters. It doesn’t cover owner-occupied homes of four units or less, so it won’t burden small landlords who may need more flexibility. And it doesn’t affect the stronger tenant protection measures found in New York City’s rent-stabilized apartments and in public housing statewide. Several New York cities including Albany, Beacon, Kingston, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie have already adopted their own municipal good cause eviction laws.

The Civil Liberties Case for Good Cause Eviction Protections

Having stable and affordable housing is a necessary foundation for health, financial well-being, educational success, and a person’s ability to participate in society. For lower-income New Yorkers, the loss of stable housing can be devastating. It’s extremely difficult to afford a deposit, moving costs, and the always-climbing price of rents. Many faced with these obstacles are forced into homelessness. Others move into substandard housing, or double up with friends and family.

Good Cause doesn’t just protect tenants from eviction when their lease ends. It also helps tenants advocate for their right to safe and decent living conditions under New York law. While these rights currently exist on paper, in practice tenants are frequently afraid to advocate for themselves because they know their landlord can retaliate against them by refusing to renew their lease.

When the landlord has the ultimate and arbitrary power over a tenant’s ability to remain in their home, there is no level playing field and no genuine opportunity for tenants to exercise their legal rights. Good Cause Eviction protection provides a necessary correction to this deeply unfair power dynamic.

Housing Justice is Racial Justice

Passing Good Cause will also help dismantle racial injustice in New York’s communities. Our country’s history of housing segregation, redlining, and forced displacement through eminent domain and urban renewal, have systematically deprived people of color from being able to buy a home. These policies have also led to the concentration of poverty, poor housing quality, and a higher rate of evictions in communities of color.

This legacy can be seen today in our large racial wealth gap and higher eviction rates for Black renters. Today, even though half of New York homes are owner-occupied, more than two-thirds of New York’s Black families are renters.

Following the January 2022 end of New York’s eviction moratorium, Black households were more than three times as likely as white renter households to anticipate being evicted in the next two months.

Ultimately, by expanding renter protections in New York, Good Cause gives tenants the ability to advocate for their rights and enjoy housing stability in a market dominated by rising rents and the displacement of lower-income people.

New York should pass Good Cause Eviction protections now. These protections will strengthen New York communities, racial justice, and our civil rights.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
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Civil Liberties Union