Sen. Julia Salazar’s new eviction bill is the first step toward Universal Rent Control

Legislation outlining "good cause eviction" in New York would attempt to cap annual rent increases on market rate apartments

Julia Salazar (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and Wikipedia)
Julia Salazar (Credit: Getty Images, iStock, and Wikipedia)

Brooklyn State Senator Julia Salazar, who creamed an incumbent Democrat on the way to winning a seat in Albany last summer, submitted her first housing bill on Wednesday, in a move that would pave the way for “universal rent control” in New York State.

The “good cause” eviction bill is a proposed amendment to the state’s real property law and would prevent tenants in nearly any market-rate apartment from being evicted for not paying an “unconscionable” increase in rent.

Unconscionable is defined as an annual increase of more than 150 percent of the regional Consumer Price Index, as it stands in the month of August of the preceding year. In August of last year, New York City CPI was 2.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Salazar bill could effectively cap rent increases this year at just 3.3 percent at virtually every unregulated New York City rental apartment, and by similar amounts elsewhere. Any increase higher than that, according to the bill, would require justification.

Salazar did not immediately return a request for comment. The bill was referred to the Senate’s judiciary committee, which is chaired by Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman. In a statement, Hoylman told The Real Deal he is cosponsoring Salazar’s bill and will support it in committee. “In 2017, landlords filed 230,000 residential eviction petitions in New York City’s housing court. That’s 230,000 households who landlords tried to force out of their homes,” Hoylman said. He did not specifically address the rent control aspect, however.

While it’s unclear if passage of the new law would prevent landlords from charging increases over 150 percent of CPI, it would at least seem to keep tenants from being evicted for any nonpayment.

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“There is no dispute that the tenant owes the rent that the free market tenant agreed to pay; but, the bill [would] now effectively modify the lease agreement,” landlord attorney Sherwin Belkin told TRD, reacting to the language in the bill.

The “rebuttable presumption” provision in Salazar’s proposal mirrors other recent legislative attempts to regulate New York City housing, such as a city council bill passed in 2017, that requires landlords to prove certain acts, such as a discontinuation of services in rent-stabilized buildings, were not done for the purposes of harassing tenants.

Still less than a month into the 2019 session, the Senate Democrats carry a 17-seat majority in Albany and are expected to roll out a number of housing reforms over the next five months, especially ones focused on rent-stabilization in New York City. Those proposals will likely include the repeal of vacancy rent increases and limits on rent increases obtained from building improvements. The city’s rent laws expire this June and will also need to be reauthorized.

Salazar, who defeated Senator Martin Dilan by more than 17 points this past September, campaigned on universal rent control, or an expansion of New York City-style rent protections to the entire state, and other tenant issues. She refused to take campaign contributions from the real estate industry.

A rent control ballot measure was recently defeated in California, though organizers are likely to take the issue up again. In Illinois, legislators are also gearing up to present a rent control bill.