Legislature eyes changes to “just cause eviction” bill

Senate Housing Committee chair says rent cap standard may be altered

TRD New York /
Oct.October 02, 2019 04:00 PM
Senator Brian Kavanagh and REBNY president Jim Whelan (inset) (Credit: Getty Images and Facebook)

Senator Brian Kavanagh and REBNY president Jim Whelan (inset) (Credit: Getty Images and Facebook)

Just cause eviction, a measure derided by the real estate industry and abandoned last legislative session, is likely to resurface in Albany next year — but with some changes.

Sen. Brian Kavanagh, Housing Committee Chair and one of the bill’s sponsors, said Wednesday that the proposed standard for whether a rent increase is “unconscionable” will likely be amended. The bill, whose prime sponsor is Sen. Julia Salazar, states that tenants cannot be evicted for being unable to pay rent that increased by more than 150 percent of the regional Consumer Price Index.

“We would presumably want to get the numbers right,” he said during a housing forum held by Crain’s.

Afterward, Kavanagh told TRD that because the price index can go down, basing a standard on a multiple of CPI percentage changes could yield a negative cap. He noted that other areas with good cause eviction laws base the cap on a percentage-point increase plus CPI.

“I don’t think getting this done or not getting this done depends on the particular arithmetic of that number,” he told TRD. “I think there is an educational effort that needs to be done to ensure people understand what good cause does and what it doesn’t.”

“It is not some backdoor effort to freezing rents indefinitely,” he said.

But the real estate industry is expected to vigorously oppose the legislation.

Real Estate Board of New York President James Whelan called it “essentially universal rent control” and said it would be a “crippling body blow to housing production.”

Before the Senate and Assembly agreed on the rent-law overhaul known as the Housing Security and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, senators floated a version of good cause eviction in which “unreasonable” rent increases were defined as anything above 3.5 percentage points plus the regional CPI. That version of the bill wasn’t formally proposed, though.

Salazar said that while she has “no intentions of changing the integrity of the bill,” she’s “very open to changing the metrics to something that makes sense.” She noted that proposals to change how the rent cap is calculated — including the 3.5 points plus CPI — were met with opposition.

“There was an unwillingness from some people who hadn’t even read the bill,” she said.
“There just wasn’t the political will to do it.”

She agreed with Kavanagh that next steps should include educating the public about what the bill actually does.

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