Maddy Vogel/The Ithaca Times

Members of the Ithaca Tenants Union came to the June 20 public hearing on good cause eviction, uniting in favor of the proposed law.

July 10, 2024

Landlords and Advocates Grapple with Good Cause Eviction Law at Public Hearing

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The City of Ithaca held a public hearing on July 20 to discuss the proposed Good Cause Eviction law, set to be voted on by the Common Council on July 10. During the hearing, both advocates and opponents of the law shared their perspectives.

The law is intended to increase tenant protections in the city and prevent arbitrary evictions, requiring landlords to provide a legitimate reason — or “good cause” — for evicting or non-renewing tenants. It would prevent landlords from raising rent more than once a year and also require landlords to cite specific reasons for raising rent when increasing it above 10 percent or the Consumer Price Index plus five percent — whichever is lower. 

Several different factors qualify as “good cause” for eviction, including tenant violations of the lease, failure to pay rent and committing or permitting a nuisance.

Section 231-C, Good Cause Eviction law notice — which provided a framework for “good cause” regulations statewide — went into effect on April 20, applying to new and renewed leases in New York City and allowing other cities in the state the choice to opt in. Albany was the first Upstate New York city to opt-in on June 3, with other cities anticipated to follow suit. 

Under New York State guidelines, units in buildings constructed after 2009 are subject to a 30-year moratorium on the law’s applicability, meaning they will not be eligible to be included in the law until 30 years after they were built. 

For example, The Ithacan Residences is a recently developed 13-story apartment complex located in downtown Ithaca. A one-bedroom apartment in the Ithacan costs $2,900 per month. The apartment complex was built in 2023, meaning that units in the complex will be exempt from the Good Cause Eviction law until the year 2053. 

Additionally, Ithaca’s version of the law will not apply to tenants who pay above 345 percent of fair market rent. According to 2023 data from the City of Ithaca, fair market rent for a one-bedroom is $1,276. This would mean that any apartments above $4,402, which is 345 percent of fair market rent, would be excluded from the law. 

The state law excludes landlords who own fewer than 10 units from “good cause,” but the city is expected to limit that number to one, making the law apply to all landlords who do not meet the other exemption criteria. 

The city planning department was unable to provide data on the number of units the Good Cause Eviction law would apply to and how many units would be exempt ahead of publication when asked by The Sun. 

In the hearing, many landlords shared that they think the city’s plans to limit the number of units from 10 to one is unfair as it places unnecessary regulations on small landlords. Meanwhile, individuals speaking on behalf of the law at the hearing explained that it prevents landlords of 10+ properties from attempting to avoid the law by creating individual Limited Liability Companies for each property they own, making it appear as though they are small landlords. 

Landlords came to the public hearing to express frustrations regarding certain aspects of the law, claiming it would disproportionately affect small landlords. (Maddy Vogel/The Ithaca Times)

Advocates affirmed that regulations including one-to-ten property landlords will increase tenant protections from large out-of-state landlords who use the “LLC loophole” to effectively exempt themselves from Good Cause Eviction laws. 

“Landlords are encouraged to [register their properties as an LLC] this because it protects them from liability, and that includes Good Cause protection,” Ithaca Tenants Union member Angel Devivo said when advocating for Good Cause protections. “It would be impossible to tell who is a small landlord and who isn’t.”

Many landlords present at the hearing believed the one-unit limitation would burden “mom-and-pop landlords” with unnecessary rules and regulations. 

“We have vintage properties which are not exempt,” Anita Graf, a local landlord, said. “If you want to ask, ‘Will these laws have an economic impact?’ ask yourself why the new builds are being exempted. Because you don’t want to stop people from building new things because it has an economic impact.”

In contrast, others believe that all rental properties should be regulated equally.

“We’ve heard people complain about the definition of small landlord inside the law as if it has some effect outside the law, but it doesn’t. That’s a distraction,” Veronica Pillar, a Tompkins County legislator for District Two, said. “A person’s right to stay in their home, and to know they have the right to stay in their home, doesn’t depend on how much other property their landlord owns. … Those two things shouldn’t be connected.” 

Landlords raised concerns that the law would make evicting tenants more difficult and burdensome, with many predicting that the law’s passage would encourage local landlords to sell their properties to out-of-state buyers. Landlords also expressed frustrations that if a tenant does not decide whether they want to renew their lease or seek new housing, the landlords will have no way of knowing whether to seek new tenants until the current tenant’s lease expires or they decide to renew. 

“We wouldn’t have the time or finances to bear the burden of proof that will be required of us in court when we don’t want to renew a tenant,” local landlord Grace Petrisin said. “It would be my responsibility to take the tenant to court to prove that they stopped paying rent, or were a nuisance to other tenants in the building, or one of the other allowed reasons for renewal.”

As landlords push for Common Council to delay their vote, advocates encourage them to pass the law before most Ithaca tenants’ leases expire on July 31 — in line with the academic year timeline that accommodates the large student population.

Dorothy France-Miller is a reporter from The Cornell Daily Sun working on The Sun’s summer fellowship at The Ithaca Times. This article was previously published in The Ithaca Times.

Maddy Vogel is a news reporter for the Ithaca Times and Finger Lakes Community Newspapers. Contact her at [email protected].