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Rent protections stand out in state Legislative session

It’s budget season in Albany, and this year is all about housing. Gov. Kathy Hochul made it the centerpiece of her State of the State address, with a plan to build 800,000 units of housing over the next decade. With so much attention on the issue, tenant advocates are expressing newfound confidence that “good cause” eviction protections will get approved as part of a broad housing package, likely paired with a replacement for a controversial developer tax break that’s critical to the implementation of Hochul’s plan.

For years, housing activists have pushed for new tenant protections that would aid renters in apartments that aren’t rent-stabilized. The proposal, dubbed good cause eviction, would enumerate the specific instances that a landlord would be justified in evicting a tenant with the intent of protecting them from losing their housing arbitrarily or unjustly. The cornerstone of the bill, however, was also the most controversial. It would make it illegal for a landlord to kick out a renter for refusing to pay an “unconscionable” rent increase, effectively placing a cap on how much property owners can raise rents on market-rate units.

Even some local losses in recent months could spell good news for tenant organizers. After successful campaigns to get good cause laws approved in a number of Hudson Valley communities, including Kingston, Albany and Poughkeepsie, state courts have struck down several of them, ruling for the most part that such protections need to be passed at the state level. “The courts are saying this is preempted, this is the state Legislature’s responsibility to regulate,” Brahvan Ranga, political director with the tenant rights group For the Many, told City & State. “This puts an additional level of pressure on the Legislature because municipalities tried to address this issue, and they weren’t able to.” He added that the state Legislature has shown its willingness to “flex its muscles” against the governor – the state Senate rejected Hochul’s chief judge nominee not once, but twice – and he expected to see that again for good cause in budget negotiations.

Ranga said advocates feel good about the level of support in the state Senate and have been building it up in the Assembly. “It’s going to come down to us organizing really hard the next couple of months and making sure that it’s clear that any housing proposal without good cause is unacceptable to tenant advocates,” he said. But its inclusion in the budget is still far from a sure thing. Asked about the prospect of the legislation being approved alongside other housing priorities, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins wouldn’t commit to any specifics. “It depends,” she said, while acknowledging the importance of housing issues this year. “I think any comprehensive package talks about not only creating new housing, but keeping people in the housing they already have.” Asked in a follow-up if that meant she expects tenant protections to be included, she said, “Tenant protections I do like,” without offering an opinion specifically on good cause.




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