Surprise! Even some New York landlords support a Good Cause eviction law
- 104 New York landlords who manage 5,000 properties signed a letter urging Hochul to pass Good Cause
- Good Cause would give tenants the ability to challenge rent increases higher than 3 percent
- Brick spoke to three mom-and-pop owners who said Good Cause would level the playing field for them
Housing Justice for All
In what may come as a shock to many renters and property owners, the fight to enact a Good Cause eviction law received support from some unlikely allies yesterday: Landlords.
More than 100 New York landlords who manage a total of 5,000 properties signed a letter delivered Tuesday to Governor Kathy Hochul and leaders of the Assembly and Senate urging them to pass Good Cause, a measure that would help tenants challenge steep rent hikes and unfair evictions, according to the organization Housing Justice for All. [Editor's Note: The number of letter signers was revised from 104 to 102; see additional information at the end of this article.]
There are just days to go before the state’s fiscal year ends on March 31st and the pressure is on to negotiate the $227 billion budget. Addressing the housing crisis is a top priority for Albany and there’s been much debate over how to assist tenants. Both the Senate and Assembly issued budget resolutions that included Good Cause eviction measures for the first time, as well as a new rental assistance program, the Housing Access Voucher Program.
But it's not clear whether Governor Hochul will support Good Cause. So far, her housing focus has been on building 800,000 new units across the state and her executive budget does not mention Good Cause.
Why would landlords support Good Cause?
The letter asserts that Good Cause would level the playing field for smaller landlords struggling to compete with corporate investors and private equity firms.
It argues that private equity firms “like Greenbrook Partners and Glacier Equities have torn apart entire neighborhoods and upended the lives of scores of New Yorkers, kicking families out of homes they have inhabited for years and even decades. We’ve seen landlords evict tenants simply for speaking up about repairs or safety concerns. We’ve seen reports of rent hikes as high as 100 percent when tenants go to renew their lease.”
If Good Cause legislation was enacted, then landlords “based hundreds of miles away won’t be able to leave buildings in disarray and kick out tenants who raise concerns. They’ll have to spend money on repairs or leave the market—just like the rest of us do,” the letter states.
The 102 signers include landlords from the five boroughs as well as Westchester and upstate and western New York, and include owners with one or two units to some owners with 1,000-plus unit properties.
Tenant attorney Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben & Joseph (and a Brick sponsor, FYI) says he was surprised to hear that a group of landlords are in favor of enacting Good Cause “but on some level it makes sense because it provides a sense of security to ‘good’ tenants, and landlords can get behind that.”
Ellen Davidson, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, was not surprised that landlords support good cause. “Good landlords already do everything required by the Good Cause eviction law. It's a very light form of regulation. It's not surprising landlords support it,” she says.
What is Good Cause eviction?
The letter marks yet another twist in a years-long battle to implement the bill first introduced by State Senator Julia Salazar in 2019. Good Cause would give tenants the ability to challenge rent increases higher than 3 percent or 1.5 times the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is higher. It would prohibit non-renewals, unless an owner had justification, such as a tenant’s failure to pay rent or a violation of the terms of a lease—essentially the “good cause” a landlord is required to assert for an eviction.
Of course there’s plenty of opposition to the legislation. Some small landlords fear it will "ruin them."
“Good Cause Eviction will lead to significantly higher rents on vacant units and will have almost no impact on how much current renters pay,” according to the website for Homeowners for an Affordable New York, an organization that advocates for property owners. “Good Cause Eviction means higher property taxes, fewer quality homes, and impossible burdens on property owners, further distorting the market and turning owning and renting property into a money-losing proposition.”
‘It’s a big picture thing’
To landlord Jungwon Kim, a non-profit strategy consultant who bought a three-story brownstone in Bed-Stuy in 2007 with her then-husband, a life-long New Yorker, the legislation makes sense.
“It’s a big-picture thing,” she says. “Corporate landlords and private investment funds are snapping up buildings left and right. We get letters in our mailbox offering cash for our building,” Kim says. After the private equity firms buy buildings, they “jack up the rent by triple or quadruple, so a lot of our friends, people who grew up in the city, have to leave. They can’t afford to live here.”
She signed the letter to Governor Hochul and says she supports the legislation because it targets corporate landlords and would prevent massive rent hikes that generate rapid renter turnover and instability in a community. “We keep our rent far below market,” Kim says. “We have had the same tenants for 15 years, we know them and trust them, and I love that.”
Massive rent hikes ‘create a revolving door’
Lauren Melodia, who owns a multi-family building in Bed-Stuy where she also lives, and rents out other apartments, signed the letter because of the impact that private equity has had on the rental market as well.
“When you own property, rent it out and live there, you have huge commitment to your community,” Melodia says. “Most properties in my neighborhood are attached to each other.
“I’ve seen over the past decade how rent increases in our neighborhood create a revolving door. Before private equity got involved to the extent it has, neighbors lived on my block for generations,” she says. “I’m in favor of putting limits on practices that predatory landlords are able to get away with.”
Worries her adult children will be pushed out
Another signer is owner Naomi E. Nemtzow. She and her husband bought a two-family house in 1984 on Windsor Place. “Back then no one would call that Park Slope,” she says. They paid an eye-popping low price of $65,000 for her fixer upper. To her neighbors, many of whom had grown up on the block: “We overpaid.”
At the time, Nemtzow said they had been priced out of Manhattan and needed a place to raise a family—she has three grown children. She feels the same today: “Families need places they can afford,” she says, adding that she worries about her children being pushed out of Brooklyn by gentrification.
“My block is almost all two-family houses,” she says. “There is so much money to be made in creating luxury or other kinds of developments, so much incentive for landlords to push people out so they can do something else with the property.”
She continues: “The legislation could help people who are vulnerable to being pushed out. If a landlord is going to evict tenants without good reason—they have something to stand on.” But, she adds, “I don’t think it does enough.”
[Updated April 3rd, 2023: An article in The Real Deal raised questions about the number of real landlords signing this letter. However, a spokesperson for Housing Justice for All says, "We continue to stand by our letter. We put significant time into vetting the signers, using a variety of public databases and, in a small fraction of cases, personal attestation.”
There were two signers that should not have been included, the spokesperson said: Anthony Coker, who is not a landlord; and Gyda Arber, who signed the letter under two different names and appears under different names in property records. "With those changes, the corrected number of signers is 102,” the spokesperson says.
Another criticism of the letter is that many owners signing it are small landlords who occupy their properties. Good Cause legislation would exclude owner-occupied housing with fewer than four units. Brick was remiss in not making this distinction clear previously, however, the small landlords that Brick interviewed said they would also support the legislation if they had to comply with it.
In addition, three of the signers own properties with 1,000-plus units: Ismene Speliotis, MHANY Management; David Powell, Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association, and Ernst Valery, SAA | EVI.]
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