The Legal Aid Society released an online video ad campaign Thursday highlighting a case of tenants facing eviction from their Bronx apartment as part of its push for including “Good Cause” eviction protections in the final state budget due in just two days, April 1.
Titled “A Good Cause,” the video was first shared with amNewYork Metro and features Thomas Ellis, who — along with his wife and eight children — is currently facing eviction from his apartment in the Van Nest section of the Bronx. Advocates say the case clearly exemplifies the need for Good Cause.
The legislation, first introduced in 2019, would prevent landlords from evicting tenants unless they violate the terms of their lease and from raising rents over 3% or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index (CPI) — whichever is higher.
Proponents of Good Cause say protections in the bill are needed as rents continue to soar in the five boroughs, with the median rental price in Manhattan climbing to $4,097 this past January, a 15% rise from the previous year, according to a recent report from Douglas Elliman. Evictions have also been on a steady rise since the pandemic-era moratorium on the proceedings ended in early 2022, with 4,000 evictions last year.
Opponents of the bill — mostly landlords and members of the real estate industry — argue it would negatively impact small property owners by forcing them to offer new leases to tenants who refuse to leave, while inflating rents and making it more difficult for new renters to find an apartment.
While Good Cause wasn’t part of Governor Kathy Hochul’s executive budget proposal, the essence of the bill was included in the state Senate and Assembly’s own budget plans.
Edward Josephson, the supervising attorney with Legal Aid’s Civil Law Reform Unit, said he believes the bill has a good chance of being included in this year’s state spending plan.
“It seems like people are taking it very seriously this year,” Josephson said. “And I think it’s just the relentless pressure of the market with rents skyrocketing, and affordable apartments being ever scarcer.”
‘Four months after I got here, it became a nightmare’
In the video, Thomas Ellis describes how he and his family moved into their Bronx apartment in 2020 after being homeless, only to realize shortly thereafter that the landlord — Jagjit Hora, who according to a report from the New York Daily News, owns the building through an LLC — allegedly refused to make critical repairs upon the family’s requests.
Ellis says Hora’s refusals have resulted in his unit being plagued by holes in the walls, lights and outlets that don’t work and a rat infestation.
“This apartment, while I was really happy, I was glad to be out of the shelter, you know, no more stress, it was like a tremendous burden lifted off my shoulders,” Ellis says in the video. “But four months after I got here, it became a nightmare again. So, really nothing changed, I just had a small rest period.”
The family has also been living without heat, hot water and cooking gas, according to the News’ report.
Ellis walks through the apartment in the video, showing what he describes as a non-functioning outlet and faulty wiring attached to it that he called a “super fire hazard.” Additionally, he points out a hole in the ceiling, indicating that rodents come through the opening.
“These are all the things that were wrong, should have been fixed a long time ago, they should have never let this building pass inspection,” Ellis says.
“How I look like with eight kids, trying to survive, buy food, everything, and then I gotta pay $1,900 every month, but I can’t cook, my kids can’t take a bath, we can’t eat? Three months went by, he’s coming by every month, you ain’t did nothing,” Ellis said, referring to the landlord. “I thought you was gonna fix the lights and the gas, you never did it.”
An attorney for Hora didn’t respond to amNewYork Metro’s requests for comment about Ellis’ allegations.
The family complained to the city about Hora’s alleged refusal to make repairs, according to Legal Aid, which eventually led to a proceeding brought by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) in March 2021, and resulted in him having to pay a $2,500 fine. After that, the family’s lease ended and Hora declined to renew the agreement for another year, leaving the family living in the unit without a lease.
Hora then filed a so-called “holdover” eviction proceeding against the family in May 2022, according to the News’ report, in which a landlord can evict a tenant for refusing to vacate their apartment after not being offered a new lease. That proceeding doesn’t need to be based on a tenant’s failure to pay rent or any violation of their lease, because under current state law landlords of non-rent regulated buildings can decline to offer renewals without a specific reason.
Eviction by neglect
Munonyedi Clifford, attorney-in-charge of Legal Aid’s Citywide Housing Justice Practice, says in the video that landlords are letting apartments fall into disrepair to force tenants out, so they can move in new renters who’ll pay higher prices.
When tenants complain about landlords refusing to make repairs, Clifford says, they risk being evicted — even though that’s legally presumed to be retaliation.
“Unfortunately, we do see many instances where tenants are taken to housing court because they’re exercising their rights as a tenant,” Clifford says in the video.
State Senator Julia Salazar (D-Brooklyn), the author and prime sponsor of Good Cause, says the bill would protect families like Ellis’ from their current situation by preventing landlords from refusing to offer a lease renewal or evicting them in absence of a lease violation.
“The Good Cause eviction bill would ensure that tenants, most tenants in New York state, could not be evicted for no reason at all,” Salazar says in the video. “Right now, unregulated tenants in New York don’t have that protection and so it allows landlords to continue to engage in predatory behavior and take advantage of the lack of rights that tenants have.”
Blaming the ‘socialists and far-left lobbyists’
But Greg Drilling, a spokesperson for Homeowners for an Affordable New York, a coalition of pro-landlord groups that opposes Good Cause, said the bill is an “ideologically driven” campaign by those on the left that won’t address the city’s housing crisis.
“Good Cause Eviction is an ideologically-driven pursuit by far-left socialists that does nothing to address the housing supply shortage and would, in fact, make finding an apartment more difficult and impossibly expensive for new renters,” Drilling said in a statement to amNewYork Metro.
“The socialists and far-left lobbyists pushing this bill fail to understand that reducing the number of new units created and forcing small property owners to walk away from buildings will make the housing crisis worse – not better,” he added.
Josephson, however, pushed back on that argument, saying landlords are already starting from a point where they’re getting market rent, and the bill still allows for “reasonable” increases every year. Plus, he said landlords will still be able to evict tenants who violate their leases.
“Starting from a base of market rents, landlords will be allowed a reasonable increase every year,” he said. “And so there’s no reason to think that that won’t be sufficient for them. Because they’re starting from a very high baseline.”
“That’s exactly what the bill is supposed to be,” he added. “If they’re (the tenants) objectionable, you can go right to court and say, ‘these people are objectionable and here’s why.’”