On Sept. 15, the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted to open Right to Renew legislation, which provides tenants lease security, for comments and will revisit the legislation in the next meeting to decide whether to send it to the Common Council.
The committee heard from housing advocates as well as members of the committee concerned with the proposal’s legality.
Advocates for the Right to Renew, also known as the Good Cause Eviction legislation, propose preventing landlords from evicting tenants without receiving an order from an Ithaca City Court judge so that landlords have a reasonable cause for terminating leases — like a tenant failing to pay rent. The law would do this by entitling tenants to a renewal lease and protecting them from unreasonable rate increases.
The Ithaca Tenants Union, an organization that advocates for tenant’s rights, gave a presentation to the Committee advocating for the legislation — which they have supported since July. The ITU has been an active part of protecting Ithaca tenants from predatory practices, from their help line to the tenant law clinic, which provides advisory support to tenants in need.
The ITU emphasized that for the displacement cases that they have handled through their help line, 72 percent were explicitly related to nonrenewals, instances where tenants do not have a lease renewal.
The ITU argued that redistributing power from landlords to tenants will never make people’s lives worse off.
“Tenants having more power is better for us as a class of people,” said Genevieve Rand, one of the presenters for the Ithaca Tenants Union.
The ITU representatives objected to one of the committee’s proposed grounds for eviction — a tenant’s unreasonable refusal to allow their landlord access to the unit or premise.They argued that landlords often abuse their ability to access tenant’s housing to scare the tenant, especially if they stand up to their landlords.
Throughout the discussion of the legislation, Donna Fleming (D-3rd Ward) shared concerns about the legality of the legislation, and said she would vote against sending it to Council.
“I don’t see how you can force somebody to renew a contract that has come to its legal mutually agreed upon termination date,” Fleming said. “I do not believe the state can force one party to renew a contract with another party. I just don’t get that.”
Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward), agreed with Fleming’s concerns, saying there are many reasons a landlord would choose to not renew a lease. Lewis emphasized that while the Council is trying to protect tenants with the least resources from unscrupulous landlords, there are still those who are flexible and work with their tenants.
In response, Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward), defended the importance of the bill in protecting tenants from the common practice of landlords of either selling the property tenants had lived in or renovating and renting it for a higher rate.
“This is not even necessarily an unscrupulous landlord, I think it’s a pretty rational thing for a landlord to say I want to get more profit out of this building,” Murtagh said. “That has a human cost, however, for the people that are living there and I do think this legislation creates an opportunity to at least give tenants an understanding of what their rights are under the law.”
The Committee will revisit the matter in October, and can vote to decide whether they wish to send the legislation to the Common Council.