Celeste Tesoriero, leader of the New Paltz Tenant Union, brought a number of village renters to speak to the trustees about their concerns last week . It made for good theater during what’s often a dull portion of the meeting, when public comment is received. Tesoriero set up her own video camera to capture the entire sequence, which involved each person following her to the podium to tell the trustees, “You are my village board,” and ask them to stand up for the speaker’s rights. Some also shared personal stories of landlord abuse. Tesoriero led loud cheering and applause after each person addressed board members, which appeared to serve as encouragement for those among them who appeared uncomfortable with public speaking.
Tesoriero herself was confrontational in her comments, asking, “Why do you care more about landlords?” The basis of her approach appeared to be that local officials are unresponsive to tenant concerns, but it’s not clear this is the case. Mayor Tim Rogers later confirmed that the law Tesoriero wants passed will be on the next meeting’s agenda, and that she herself was given a choice of either February 8 or February 22, and selected the latter. During her comments, she advised that she would continue to speak at public comment until these concerns are heard.
The mayor also remarked later that the efforts on behalf of the tenants’ union have had positive effects, particularly for filling seats on the landlord-tenant council, which was created to do such things as advise people of their rights and resolve issues between the two parties. The council was completely depopulated and inactive when Rogers took office, but there was an upsurge in applications after Tesoriero posted a picture of Reese’s Pieces on Facebook to illustrate the relative numbers of landlords and tenants.
Coverage of the specifics of the proposed tenants’ rights law will occur when trustees discuss it, but the demands listed at newpaltztenantunion.com are revealing. They include protections already in law, such as working heating and plumbing, as well as new rights such as capping security deposits at $200 and filing all leases with the village clerk, who will make them available for public inspection.
Tesoriero is encouraging aggressive lobbying of Mayor Rogers and trustee Dennis Young to pass the bill, and said that trustees Rebecca Rotzler and Don Kerr are already in favor. Trustee Tom Rocco is not being similarly targeted, in part because he does not intend on running for reelection, but also because he “has not even pretended to care about young people’s issues. He doesn’t support tenants, and he never implied he would. Tim [Rogers] is different. Tim ran on a platform of helping poor and working-class people (a la Bernie Sanders, Zephyr [Teachout]), so we have some sort of ‘shame’ that we can throw at him. In effect, he lied. Tom Rocco didn’t lie, he was never supportive to begin with. Also Tim has more power on the board than Tom, because he’s the actual mayor. Procedurally, we see Tim as a very real roadblock. We don’t view Tom Rocco that way.”