HUDSON — A law that would require landlords to justify rent increases in certain cases is under scrutiny by the Hudson Common Council.
The council’s Legal Committee furthered its discussions surrounding the proposed “good cause” eviction law Wednesday night.
The law was examined in further detail by committee members who presented questions and concerns about rent control, access to legal representation and enforcement of existing tenant protections.
The committee was joined by Rebecca Garrard, legislative director at Citizen Action of New York.
The law, which was introduced to the common council Aug. 17, would establish 10 conditions that must be presented before a judge to issue eviction notice, requires judges to consider a tenant’s ability to pay when deliberating an eviction over failure to pay rent and protects against eviction due to “unreasonable and repeated” rent increases by requiring annual increases greater than 5% to have detailed justification.
The law was passed by the Albany Common Council in July, which served as the model for Hudson’s proposal, and Garrard said there are 13 campaigns statewide to pass similar bills.
Third Ward Alderman Ryan Wallace asked the difference between the good cause eviction law and the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act.
“There’s quite a lot in there in terms of what we can be enforcing that actually affords a lot of protection to existing tenants in multiple situations, particularly those that are facing any legal evictions to a point where you I just want to make it clear for those that aren’t familiar with the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act, that actually reclassified a violation, which is assumably, that a landlord could go in and throw a tenant out and pay a fine and be done with this person instead. And it’s actually moved up the ladder to a class A misdemeanor, where they can face arrest and charges,” Wallace said.
Garrard said good cause eviction legislation provides further protections for tenants.
Garrard said this is intended to provide tenants an “affirmative defense” in non-payment evictions, as the bill says a landlord must require justification for increased rent over a certain threshold.
“What this legislation really sets out to say is if a tenant is fulfilling the obligations of their tenancy, paying their rent on time, taking care of the property, not causing disruption to their neighbors, and there’s a whole host of good causes, then they have the right to renew the tenancy, stay in the tenancy,” Garrard said. “And so there was nothing in that strengthening of the retaliation laws that prohibits a landlord from saying, ‘I want to take back the property because I just want to. I want to not renew your lease because that’s my choice. I don’t have to give a reason for it.”
If a tenant has fallen behind on rent, it is up to the landlord to show the increase was necessary to cover costs associated with managing the property, Hudson City attorney Jeff Baker said.
First Ward Alderwoman Jane Trombley said she wants to see language in the bill that required tenants to prove that they cannot make rent that has increased.
“I submit that it should be tighter — that the relief of this is documented in a way that we really understand that it’s need and not taking somebody’s word for it,” she said.
Trombley also expressed concern that the bill would act as a rent control mechanism, but Garrard said rent control systems are managed at a state and county level.
Baker said the proposed law takes into account rate of the increase relative to the tenants ability to pay; what improvements were made to the unit; whether the increase was a retaliation for the tenant exercising their rights to complain under the real property law; and whether there are significant market changes relevant to the unit and its condition.
The ripple effect of increasing rent citywide caused the city’s current housing crisis, Garrard said.
“The way the market works, is that every other unit follows suit. This is why we have to be so careful when we bring in new development, because it is not just about what those rents are set out in those buildings. The ripple effect on every other unit is what has caused the crisis that exists in the Hudson and many other cities across the state right now,” Garrard said.
Hudson Housing Justice Director Michelle Tullo said some of the language seemed contradictory.
“One good cause eviction in this legislation is market conditions, it says that’s a reason to evict tenants, but market conditions are the reason why the rent has been going up so much, so to me, that feels like a huge loophole that takes the teeth out of this legislation,” she said.
The inclusion of that clause was intended to be landlord-friendly, Garrard said, but could be removed.
Claire Cousin, lead organizer in Hudson for the Hudson/Catskill Housing Coalition, said members of the committee and larger Common Council were elected to respond to national trends, like the housing crisis, and asked them to consider who is encompassed by the phrase “affordable housing.”
“You absolutely as an elected official have the power to change that narrative for not just one demographic of people, but for a spectrum of people who are fighting this affordable housing crisis from as low as subsidized housing to working class and everybody in between because finding something affordable, is almost impossible in Hudson,” Cousin said.
Second Ward Alderwoman and Majority Leader Tiffany Garriga said she stands by the law.
“I would say yes, 100%, Hudson needs to be an example because we’re hurting so bad here in such a small community. We’re hurting to the point where we are losing our population,” Garriga said.