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BLOG | Presidential Perspectives: How “Good Cause” Eviction Explains How Albany Keeps Getting Housing Wrong

By: Lisa DeRosa, President, Building and Realty Institute of Westchester and the Mid-Hudson Region (BRI)

(ARMONK) As you know, the Building and Realty Institute (BRI) represents a broad spectrum of residential real estate in our region, including both those who build new housing and those who own or manage existing housing, including co-op and condo boards, managing agents, and yes, property owners or landlords. That’s a lot of different people and a lot of different perspectives. But no one issue unites our members like the so-called “Good Cause” Eviction bill.

We have spent every legislative session in Albany for the past four years battling back this extreme piece of legislation, including seeing more sensible policies for addressing our housing issue get sacrificed by misguided and unsuccessful attempts to ram “Good Cause” through. In the process, I think we’ve learned some valuable lessons about why Albany keeps getting housing policy wrong and what we, as BRI members, can do about it.

If you’ve only been paying slight attention to this ongoing debate, you might think that “Good Cause” Eviction has something to do with making sure there’s a solid reason for a tenant to be evicted by a landlord in housing court. This is technically true, but very misleading given the way things work now. In all my years as a property owner, I’ve never seen a court willing to evict a tenant without a very clear reason and supporting evidence. What’s the reason for 9 out of 10 eviction cases? Failure to pay rent. The bill does nothing at all to those cases where a tenant has failed to pay rent – those would go through even if “Good Cause” were law. So, what gives?

The reality is the bill does so much more.


First, it is broader than just landlord-tenant issues. By virtue of the nature of housing cooperatives and their proprietary leases for shareholders, they are included in the bill (the sponsors have been notified about this many times, but so far haven’t amended the bill), and so is every type of rental housing except for owner-occupied buildings of four units or fewer.

Second, it requires an automatic lease renewal for every tenant unless the tenant can be shown to have done something that would have gotten him or her evicted in the first place. Essentially, even a subletter, or an individual renting a co-op unit until a new shareholder can be found for it, or a family temporarily renting a single-family house would now have a “lease for life.”

Finally, it establishes a limit to how much the rent can increase for every property in New York. If a rent increase is “unconscionable” by exceeding 3 percent or 1.5 times the rate of inflation, the tenant doesn’t have to pay it and can’t be evicted for failing to pay it.

What does this do for evictions? Arguably very little. But that’s the genius of the name. Everyone has a sense that evictions may be necessary but are never desirable. That’s true for property owners, too. As one of my fellow Apartment Owners Advisory Council (AOAC) members put it at one of our spring meetings, “If I’m going to housing court, I’ve already lost. At that point, it’s just a question of how much.” So rather than call it what it is – a fundamental re-shaping and re-alignment of what an owner can do with his or her own property – the bill gets called “Good Cause” Eviction.

Of course, there’s a contingent of true-believers and Democratic Socialists who are up front that, yes, the goal is to flip power dynamics on their head and massively overhaul property rights. But they’re still a small minority even in the Democratic caucus. What’s everyone else’s excuse?

There’s an old adage that hard cases make bad law. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to some unusual circumstances and “hard cases” that aren’t representative of how the real estate market has been working. There’s plenty of bad press every time there’s an eye-popping rent increase in Manhattan and Brooklyn of 40 percent or more, and some tenants are afraid they’ll be next. The fear is real, but the data is scant that this is a typical experience for renters, particularly outside of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The reality is that I lose money on turnovers. If a tenant leaves because I raised the rent or for any other reason, that apartment will be off the market for weeks or months for repairs or until I can find a new tenant. I want my good and reliable tenants to stay. These spikes in luxury rents are news because they are atypical – and often out of the price range of most renters to begin with.

Similarly, legislators have talked themselves into the need for new “tenant protections” (which for some reason only can mean “Good Cause”) on the news that evictions are up. But evictions are actually down compared to pre-pandemic numbers, both in Westchester and across the state. That’s directly from the publicly reported numbers of the New York Unified Court System itself. It is certainly true that during the pandemic, policies like the eviction moratorium and the eviction protections in the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) were enacted to keep evictions as close to zero as possible for tenants affected by the pandemic. Anything above “as low as possible during COVID” can be spun as a surge, but the long-term trend is clear and far from an emergency.

These are the hard cases that can lead to bad laws. They help explain this year’s momentum around this extreme and controversial bill. It wasn’t enough to pass – too many Assembly Members and Senators still have a modicum of common sense – but it amazingly was enough to destroy other policies to build badly needed housing or add reforms that would actually help tenants most in need, like the Housing Access Voucher Program or Access to Counsel policies which have broad support from both property owners and tenants.


So, what have we learned about how to stop bills like this?

Members of the BRI have fought like hell on this bill and have not given up even when the momentum turned against it. We provided data and arguments. We found allies to fight with us. We talked to everyone, even when the Assembly Member or Senator was up front that they supported the bill, and then we talked to them again.

At the end of the day, our real experience as professionals, as people familiar with the building, ownership, and management of multifamily housing will only be weighed when we show up and make sure it gets weighed. Like it or not, it also meant getting involved in electoral politics, through our Political Action Committee (PAC) and through other means. Decisions are made by those who show up, in Albany as in elsewhere.

When it comes to bad housing policy, the antidote is you. Thanks for everything you do.

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