Rent reform still stalled in Albany despite progress with recent landlord harassment bill

(Photo by Mark Hallum)

Despite getting the governor’s approval on a bill to provide greater protections to tenants, New York City rent activists are still pushing for other reforms that they say were overlooked during the 2019 legislative session.

The state qualifications for landlord harassment will be changing after Cuomo signed a bill Tuesday that will allow prosecutors to consider living conditions when seeking justice against unscrupulous owners of rent-controlled apartments.

The bill signing was announced Dec. 3 as the state Assembly convened for a caucus on its 2020 legislative agenda. Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, is pressuring lawmakers to reconsider policies such as enacting “good cause eviction” laws, ending Major Capital Improvements and passing the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019.

“New York’s tenants and homeless New Yorkers cannot afford for the State Legislature to play politics with their homes,” said Weaver. “There is enough wealth in New York State for all New Yorkers to have the ability to thrive. There just needs to be the political will. In 2020, the State Legislature must fight to protect our communities, rather than billionaires. As Assembly members gather today to discuss the 2020 legislative agenda, we urge them to prioritize the needs of the many, not the influential few.”

Housing Justice for All also hopes Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and lawmakers will prioritize other bill that will provide financial supplements to New Yorkers in danger of becoming homeless.

One of these bills, Home Stability Support, championed by Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, will provide a rental subsidy that will provide assistance to low income residents before they end up on the streets. Hevesi has touted his plan as a cheaper alternative to opening new homeless shelters.

In June, the discourse in Albany regarding the “universal rent control” package was chaotic with activists supporting the nine bills creating bedlam and getting arrested in many cases.

“Following a long discussion within the Senate Majority Conference, it is clear that we have support for all nine priority housing bills,” Democrat Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement at the time. The statement created doubt that all nine bills would pass in the Assembly due to the lack of a similar statement from Heastie prior to several of the laws being left hanging.

The Good Cause Eviction Bill sponsored by state Senator Julia Salazar would prohibit putting tenants out of their homes if they could not pay a rent increase of 150 percent of the inflation rate or an increase of 3.3 percent. This is based on New York’s average inflation over the past 19 years.

As for the bill Cuomo signed Tuesday, state Attorney General Letitia James said the legislation takes a burden of proof away from tenants who claim that their landlords’ neglect is tantamount to harassment.

“Tenants will no longer have to meet an unreasonably high bar to demonstrate that they are being harassed. Instead, we will ensure that landlords will face justice when they intentionally subject their tenants to unsafe, disruptive, or uninhabitable conditions, such as exposing them to hazardous materials, shutting off heat and hot water, or using construction to make buildings deliberately uninhabitable,” James said.

Senator Liz Krueger and Assemblymember Joe Lentol sponsored the bill that passed the State Senate, with 42 members in favor and 17 naysayers, on April 10.

Mark Hallum