Tenants in New York City (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)
Tenants in New York are struggling. Rent prices are through the roof, rising more than 30% from last year. People are getting kicked out of their homes at rates we haven’t seen since before the pandemic.
Add to this the growing costs of inflation and a looming decision by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board to raise rents on stabilized apartments even higher, and you have the makings of a historic crisis for tenants across the board.
With just days left in the 2022 state legislative session, lawmakers in Albany must listen to the voices of tenants crying out for help by passing the Good Cause bill, which will give tenants the power to challenge outrageous rent hikes and unjust evictions.
With few protections in place for working families facing eviction, predatory landlords and private equity firms are using this moment to pad their bottom line. In New York, if you’re not in a rent-controlled or rent-stabilized apartment, your landlord can raise your rent as high as they want, whenever they want, and they can kick you out of your home for any reason, even as payback for raising safety concerns.
As a result, all across New York City, landlords that are essentially private equity firms in disguise have been jacking up rents as high as 100% when tenants go to renew their leases and evicting long-time tenants with virtually no notice, all to flip properties and make a profit.
Take the case of Irene Cepeda, a Make the Road New York member who has lived in the same apartment in Bushwick for 22 years and paid her rent on time every month. Irene is now facing a sudden rent hike of $1,200 per month, which amounts to the same thing as an eviction. Her kids are worried sick about the prospect of moving away from the neighborhood they grew up in.
Good Cause would protect tenants like Irene getting hit with sticker shock when they renew a lease. The legislation ties rent increases to the rate of inflation, requiring landlords to justify rent hikes greater than 3% or 150% of the Consumer Price Index. And if a landlord wanted to deny a lease renewal, they would need to be prepared to justify it in court.
Not only does Good Cause give tenants more power to fight outrageous rent hikes, but it also empowers tenants to demand repairs and speak out against harassment without fearing retaliation from their landlord. Such retaliation is all too common right now. Weeks ago, for example, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a scathing memo calling out landlords for trying to crack down on tenants who have been organizing for safer conditions.
We’ve seen it in our own neighborhoods. Another Make the Road New York member, Grisel Pacheco, was forced to leave her apartment in Ridgewood after her landlord refused to repair a broken kitchen sink pipe. She and her three children needed to move to a new neighborhood, far from their schools and support network.
Evictions aren’t just harmful for those who lose their homes. They make it harder for children to succeed in school. They destroy support networks and communities. And they make our neighborhoods less safe. Good Cause isn’t just about protecting tenants - it’s about keeping our communities healthy and safe.
If you’re a landlord playing by the rules, you have nothing to fear from this bill. Good Cause wouldn’t stop landlords from taking action against tenants who are disruptive or who refuse to pay the rent, nor would it deny landlords the right to deny a lease renewal to occupy a unit themselves or have a family member move in.
What this bill would do is provide real relief to tenants who are facing unsustainable rent hikes and provide protections from abusive and predatory landlords. New York’s Congressional delegation and more than a dozen of the state’s largest labor unions support this bill. Multiple cities in New York, including Albany and Poughkeepsie, have passed their own version of Good Cause.
The pandemic has left working families in New York in survival mode for the past two years, on top of what was already an affordable housing crisis where so many were severely rent-burdened and one large rent increase away from losing their homes.
We have just days left in the state legislative session to make a difference for tenants and accelerate our recovery. We can rebuild our state and ensure that all New Yorkers can keep a safe roof over their heads without fear of harassment or eviction. It’s time to pass Good Cause.
Julia Salazar is a State Senator representing the 18th district in Brooklyn. Jose Lopez is the Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. On Twitter: @JuliaCarmel_ & @JLopez_MRNY.