Op-ed: Albany must enact Good Cause

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Imagine that you’ve lived in your home in the Bronx — a modest, non-rent stabilized apartment — for years. You’ve made the rent on time each month, taken good care of the property and respected your neighbors. Your kids attend the neighborhood school, your job is nearby, and you truly feel connected to the community you reside in.

But one season — after you complained to the city about an ongoing lack of heat and hot water in your building — you receive news from your landlord that they will not consider your lease for renewal and that you will have to look for a new place to live. And because New York lacks meaningful protection for tenants in non-rent stabilized units, you have no recourse but to leave the only home you have.

Good Cause — budget-neutral legislation that has been gaining traction in cities and municipalities around New York State — is a response to the thousands of stories just like this one that are happening every day; stories of struggling renters who are routinely subjected to harassment, unconscionable rent increases, and arbitrary — in many cases retaliatory — evictions. Good Cause would give tenants the right to a lease renewal in most cases and curb unlimited rent hikes in non-stabilized apartments — ensuring that all renters are provided with a basic minimum of crucial protections.

Yet if one were to take seriously the reactionary message of last week’s Bronx Times op-ed targeting Good Cause, one might draw the conclusion that the aim of the legislation is not to protect vulnerable, hardworking renters from exploitation and neglect by a minority of predatory landlords, but rather to enable big government to victimize landlords indiscriminately by effectively seizing their property and saddling them with a host of perpetual wards — all while driving entire neighborhood economies into depression.

The op-ed—which cynically recasts Good Cause as the “Lease for Life” bill — plays on the fears of property owners that the protections provided by Good Cause amount to de facto lifelong rent control. But Good Cause legislation does not prohibit rent increases — it only restrains rapacious landlords from using eviction as a tool to drive out tenants by limiting those increases to a reasonable level.

Neither does Good Cause legislation prevent landlords from using the courts and eviction proceedings to remove tenants who legitimately violate the terms of their lease. It simply requires landlords seeking to evict a tenant to substantiate their reasons for doing so.

Without Good Cause in place, struggling tenants living in the Bronx’s 100,032 non-rent stabilized households (24.7% of the borough’s rental stock) will continue to encounter the use of extreme rent hikes as a way of ousting them from their homes. In 2020, 61% of Bronx residents reported falling behind on their rent or mortgage, had utilities shut off due to nonpayment, or were threatened with eviction or foreclosure due to wage and job loss in the COVID era. And a staggering 83% of low-income Bronx residents who lost employment income report food insecurity.

New Yorkers overwhelmingly support Good Cause. Earlier this year, Albany, Hudson and Newburgh became the first municipalities in the state to pass the measure, and state Attorney General Letitia James recently came out in public support of Good Cause.

Millions of tenants in non-rent stabilized housing deserve basic, common-sense protections, and Albany must enact Good Cause now.

Shervon Small Esq., director of the Economic Equities Project at The Legal Aid Society and longtime Bronx resident. Amanda Septimo represents the 84th New York State Assembly District in the Bronx.

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