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Ithaca 'Good Cause' eviction law tabled, Council members await AG's opinion

UPDATED: 11/12/21 — 9:20 A.M.

Ithaca Good Cause Eviction - superspot WEB

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — The City of Ithaca is considering a ban on evictions without "good cause."

It is based on a measure passed by the City of Albany earlier this year. Advocates for "Good Cause" eviction in Ithaca say it would give more negotiating power to tenants who are in a vulnerable position.

The city Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) voted Wednesday night to table the legislation until December after a tense public hearing. In the meantime, they will rework it based on concerns from residents before deciding whether to pass it on to the Common Council.

First Ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock has been in favor of the legislation, a first draft of which was brought by the Ithaca Tenants’ Union this summer. Brock then helped to adopt the language in Albany’s law to fit Ithaca’s city code in a draft released in September.

During Wednesday’s meeting, she said the measure outlines rules for renewing a lease.

“If indeed you have a problematic tenant and you do need to evict, you will need as a landlord to demonstrate that you have a good cause,” Brock said. “These are not just nuisance complaints or a little tit-for-tat back and forth, that you actually have a bonafide good cause to evict that tenant from the unit.”

Lease violations and failure to pay rent, given it was not dramatically increased, are among the reasons landlords can evict tenants, per the legislation.

But if the current version of the measure passes, landlords would have to allow tenants the option to renew their lease, unless there were valid reasons to not.

“For the tenants who have done everything right and abide by their lease, they should be ensured an opportunity to renew their lease at a rate of increase that is conscionable,” Brock said.

The legislation also caps year-to-year rent increases at 1.5% times the annual percentage change in the Consumer Price Index set by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.* Brock called that a “conscionable” rate in that it will allow landlords to keep up with market-rate prices annually, but keep rents relatively stabilized.

But landlords speaking against the legislation during the public hearing portion of Wednesday night’s meeting said it could have unintended consequences.

Jonah Freedman, a landlord with properties in Ithaca, said the rent stabilization measure could deter housing developers from building in the city, where affordable housing is already scarce.

“Most landlords will opt for short-term renters, for example, students, over potential long-term tenants, such as local families, if we are no longer able to decide how much to raise our rent on current tenants,” Freedman said.

Some landlords said they want to form a working group to give input on the legislation. That could buy time while the New York Attorney General’s office determines whether municipal "Good Cause" eviction laws are legal.

Officials in Beacon, a city in the Hudson Valley, told the Mid Hudson News that they have requested an opinion from the attorney general on whether cities can pass these measures, since New York State Real Property Law addresses tenant and landlord relations, as well as eviction proceedings.

But speaking to the PEDC on Wednesday, Albany Corporate Counsel Robert Magee defended the legality of his city’s "Good Cause" eviction law.

Magee said the legislation would not interfere with state law because while the state regulates how courts deal with evictions and issue warrants, it does not address what entitles a landlord to an eviction warrant.

“As such, a local 'Good Cause' law does not affect or restrict a right granted by the state legislature,” Magee said.

Still, Ithaca Common Council members who oppose or are unsure about the measure said they wanted to hear the attorney general’s opinion before passing the legislation.

The attorney general’s office did not answer WSKG’s inquiry into when an opinion would be issued.

Another committee meeting is scheduled for the second Wednesday in December.

*A previous version of this story misstated the annual rate at which landlords can increase rents. It is 1.5% times the annual percentage change in the Consumer Price Index.