Skyrocketing eviction rates in New York City prompt Legal Aid Society to again call for ‘Good Cause’ legislation

Brownstones and townhouses in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

New York City marshals have evicted tenants at a rate that has increased by more than 259% so far this year compared to the same time period in 2022, according to city data recently released.

Now, the Legal Aid Society, which represents low-income individuals including tenants in housing court, is calling on the governor and state lawmakers to enact “Good Cause” eviction legislation in the next session. 

Between Jan. 1 and July 31 this year, city marshals executed 5,890 evictions, compared to 1,640 evictions during the same timeframe last year. In July alone, there were 747 evictions citywide.

Since January 2022, according to city data, 9,984 households have been subjected to eviction.

Edward Josephson, supervising attorney in the Legal Aid Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit, told amNewYork Metro that one “positive effect” of the COVID-19 pandemic was that it put a lid on evictions for several years through the moratorium and the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

But those, however, are “coming to an end.” As of May 15 this year, the state closed off new applications for the ERAP. 

“We’re once again staring in the face the problems of the New York City housing market,” Josephson said. “To the extent that people are being evicted because they’re not protected by any kind of Good Cause eviction protection — those are totally preventable evictions.”

It’s not clear how many of the evictions in the data released by the city are related to non-payment or an eviction proceeding holdover unrelated to non-payment, housing attorneys at the Legal Aid Society believe that many of these tenants would have benefited if “Good Cause” legislation was enacted statewide.

Senate Bill 2305, sponsored by Brooklyn state Senator Julia Salazar and originally introduced in 2019, would require landlords to demonstrate a justification or “good cause” for evicting tenants in unregulated units, and would protect tenants from exorbitant rent hikes, restricting rent increases to either 3% or 1.5% of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher.

Governor Kathy Hochul has expressed opposition towards “Good Cause” legislation, and the bill did not make it into the state’s FY 2024 budget. The Legal Aid Society is now calling on Hochul, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to support the enactment of “Good Cause.”  

Judith Goldiner, the attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Civil Law Reform Unit, reiterated the law firm’s demand for “Good Cause” enactment in the next legislative session.

“New York’s eviction machine is in full swing, and this will only worsen so long as Albany lawmakers fail to advance policies to equip tenants with basic, common-sense rights,” Goldiner stated. “Next session, Governor Hochul and legislature leaders must finally enact “Good Cause” to provide our clients the relief they deserve before more New Yorkers are displaced from their homes and communities, compounding the local homelessness crisis.”

Legal Aid Society housing court attorneys currently represent hundreds of people across New York City fighting against no-cause holdover.

“There are not enough free lawyers for everyone, unfortunately, partly because the city isn’t putting as much money in the program as it needs to put,” Josephson said. “But there’s a lot more legal representation than there ever has been in the past.”

As a reminder, tenants in housing court can ask the court to refer to assigned counsel, Josephson said. Tenants can also receive guidance on their legal rights from organizations like the Metropolitan Council on Housing and Housing Court Answers.

There have been 1,905 evictions in Brooklyn from Jan. 1 to July 31 this year, the highest number of evictions across the five boroughs. In the Bronx, there have been 1,763 evictions in the same period.

Josephson pointed to several organizations in the Bronx and Brooklyn that support tenants and protect them against unjust evictions, including Community Action for Safe Apartments in the Bronx. In Brooklyn, he suggested residents in need of housing resources reach out to the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, IMPACCT Brooklyn, and the Fifth Avenue Committee.

City-wide evictions broken down by borough from January 2022 to July 2023.Legal Aid Society

The Legal Aid Society has advocated for a bill, sponsored by Council Member Pierina Ana Sanchez (D-14), that was recently passed by the City Council that would make rent subsidies available to tenants who are at risk of eviction.

Josephson said it makes “so much sense” for the city to provide tenants with a rent subsidy to keep them housed, as opposed to paying much more to cover their shelter costs if they become unhoused.

“What we see many times is you have tenants with what you would think would be affordable rents,” Josephson said. “But because they’re extremely low income, they lose these affordable apartments.”

But “Good Cause” protections would prevent landlords from denying lease renewals to tenants who have consistently abided by the terms of their leases, stated the Legal Aid Society.

If a tenant is law-abiding and pays their rent, they are entitled to stay in their apartment. But Josephson said that what a lot of people don’t realize is that “if you are in a property that’s not covered by rent stabilization, because it’s less than six units, or it’s been recently constructed since 1974, then when the lease comes to an end, the landlord could just want you to move for no reason — no reason at all.”

“Rents have inflated beyond the ability of working families to afford them,” Josephson said. “It just calls on both the city and state to make more housing subsidies available to meet the need, and, and also the need for regulation so that the rents won’t spiral further out of control.”