Anti-Eviction Bill Rally Greets State Democratic Party Convention

Protestors outside the convention Wednesday urged state leaders to pass a bill that would transform protections for tenants.

By Luke Cregan and Danielle Dawson

Outside the New York State Democratic Convention, protestors voice their support for several bills currently being considered by the state legislature. One of these measures is the “Good Cause Bill,” which would raise the standard for eviction and put caps on how much landlords can raise rent. New York, NY. Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

A group of about 80 New Yorkers welcomed the state’s Democratic convention to Midtown on Wednesday by chanting: “the rent is too damn high.” 

The demonstrators, organized by the Metropolitan Council on Housing, a tenants rights group, demanded local Democratic party leaders back a bill that would grant sweeping new protections for residential renters across the state. 

The crowd shouted up at the windows of the Sheraton Hotel, the site of convention. “We are here in the cold because you failed us,” one woman said over a megaphone to a roar of approval.

The NY State Democratic Convention is currently being held at the Sheraton Hotel in Times Square. The nearly 80 protestors occupied part of the area surrounding the door. Convention attendees walked right past. New York, NY. Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

The focus of the rally, the “Good Cause” eviction bill, has stalled in Albany but recently picked up support and public attention with the expiration of an eviction moratorium last month.

The legislation would transform renting in the state by making it harder for landlords to remove tenants. It would raise the standard for eviction, permitting it only in cases where the tenant violates their lease or fails to pay rent.

The bill would stop residential landlords from raising rents dramatically. Property owners would have to persuade a judge to allow a rent increase of more than 3 percent or one-and-a-half times the rate of inflation. Advocates and opponents of the bill agree that it would help stop the common practice of using steep increases to force tenants out without bringing eviction proceedings.

“If someone’s been a good tenant, they shouldn’t have to worry about a $300 rent increase or their landlord wanting to get a different tenant in,” Andrea Shapiro, an organizer for the tenants group, the Metropolitan Council on Housing, said in an interview. 

That restriction would trigger a seismic shift in New York City’s rental market. In Manhattan, average apartment rents jumped by more than three times the proposed cap between December and January, according to a Corcoran Group market report. Some lease terms soared as much as 70 percent

The current bills—S3082 and A5573—are the newest attempt to pass some form of “Good Cause.” An earlier effort, almost identical to the one before legislators now, was introduced in 2019. It failed due to lobbying efforts by property owners and landlords.

“Landlords want to have free rein,” Shapiro said. “Anything that takes that away, they’re gonna argue against.”

Critics say the bill would effectively implement a statewide rent control measure. Many of the rules it dictates are available to rent-regulated apartments. Opponents of the legislation say it would limit the ability of landlords to pay for improvements to buildings and be especially burdensome on smaller property owners.

“The push for so-called ‘Good Cause Eviction’ will do nothing to create the affordable housing needed by millions of New Yorkers around the state,” Ross Wallenstein, spokesperson for Homeowners for an Affordable New York, said in a written statement. “It would create a ripple effect that would eventually make owning and renting property a lose-lose proposition for owners and renters alike.”

Homeowners for an Affordable New York registered as a lobby with the state last month. Filings show that the group’s retained adviser was paid $1.4 million.

Groups of protesters in support of “Good Cause Bill” outside the New York State Democratic Convention included organizations such as the Metropolitan Council on Housing, Make the Road NY, New York Communities for Change, Street Vendor Project, Mixteca, La Colmena, and Housing Justice for All. New York, NY. Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2022. Danielle Dawson for NY City Lens.

The state moratorium on evictions implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic expired in January. A backlog of almost 200,000 cases is beginning to move through the courts. Before the pandemic, city authorities conducted about 20,000 residential evictions each year. 

“Most landlords will tell you that eviction is a last measure,” Wallenstein said. “It’s not a good scenario for anybody.”

Proponents like Sen. Julia Salazar, who introduced both bills in the Senate, are optimistic about passing the bill in the state’s Democratic legislature, but key figures in Albany are handling it more cautiously.

Speaking on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer radio show Wednesday, New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said “we’re going to work on some form of Good Cause.” She doubted that the bill would pass in its current form.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who activists said was inside the Sheraton during the rally, has yet to weigh in on the bill. Her opponents in the Democratic gubernatorial race have each taken a side. Jumaane Williams is in favor; Tom Suozzi is opposed. Cities across the state and the country have adopted similar bills in recent months.

New Jersey, which was one of the first states to implement a “Good Cause” bill in 1974, has some of the lowest eviction rates in the country. There were only 136 evictions statewide in 2016, equaling a rate of 0.01 percent, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab. In New York that same year, there were 38,055 evictions, for a rate of 2.15 percent.