Village of New Paltz residents got a second chance to comment on a law that would tighten up rental registration rules and also regulate when it’s okay not to renew a lease. This time around the testimony was less contentious, with Mayor Tim Rogers trying to consistently enforce a generous four-minute time limit on speakers, and encouraging them to focus on the language in the law itself rather than any other topic, and making it clear that ad hominem attacks on “any individual” would not be tolerated. Deputy mayor Alexandria Wojcik, author of this proposal, was taken to task last time around for having a bias against landlords, in part because of a social media post in which Wojcik claimed to have had a lease renewal denied 12 times — which Wojcik now claims was a typographical error, with two being the true number. Wojcik was also criticized by attendees who felt the deputy mayor was inconsistent with enforcing time limits, and afterward was taken to task again when it was discovered that the deputy mayor was actually posting to Twitter while facilitating that session of the public hearing.
Who was commenting and what they were saying was more nuanced the second time around. Instead of many local landlords decrying the changes and a number of out-of-town experts supporting the concept in general, most testifying on August 25 had local ties. Another difference is that there was a significant portion of current and former village renters speaking or sending in written commentary — a few who were not in favor of these changes. Many people who stated support and opposition alike would like to see more data to support the need for the changes laid out.
The way this package of amendments has been presented has caused some confusion. It includes modifications to the rental registration law, and also creates a section on “good-cause eviction,” which focuses not on eviction at all, but rather creates requirements for when it’s acceptable not to renew a lease. It might be more accurately called a “good-cause lease-non-renewal” law. Lumping the two together is a convenience that saves money, both in terms of holding hearings and in terms of getting the updates to the code books published. It also has many people believing that their ability to collect rent from any of their tenants could be at risk if they refuse to renew a lease, which both the mayor and deputy mayor deny would be the case. That clause is part of tightening the registration law, explained Wojcik: when there’s a violation that poses immediate safety concerns, that landlord doesn’t get to collect the rent until it’s resolved, and then won’t be able to use it as grounds of eviction if the tenant doesn’t pay that portion. Landlords such as Matt Eyler consider this unenforceable, because most rental properties are individually held in limited-liability corporations.
Having been on vacation when the hearing was opened, this was the first time Mayor Rogers was able to express an opinion. “I support good-cause eviction because we rely on volunteers in this community,” and housing instability thwarts that design. Sometimes a dedicated volunteer must leave a municipal committee because of an inability to find another home inside the village line. Rogers’ predecessor Jason West, in fact, lived for several months while in office in an apartment just over the village line. “We can’t afford to have community turnover. People can’t volunteer for the fire department or the ZBA, or run for office, if they have to leave. We want to encourage stickiness.”
Rogers again had to explain that the purpose of beginning a discussion on a new law with a public hearing isn’t short-circuiting public engagement. The mayor said that several people had asked why a committee hadn’t been named to draft this proposal. “There wasn’t a committee, because this is the process” for gathering public input, Rogers explained. In the case of these modifications to how rental units may be managed, the public input was used to create an updated version. Those changes are substantial enough that a new hearing will have to be held after residents have a chance to review them, but the first hearing was left open during this meeting to gather as much testimony as possible. “We err on the side of holding hearings open longer than necessary.”
The edits are intended to make the meaning clearer in some cases. They are said to add one more good cause for ending a lease without renewing, plus the option to pay someone to leave. If major renovations are planned and the landlord furnishes the building permit as proof, that’s acceptable, but the tenant gets first crack at moving back in. For those especially annoying tenants who don’t actually break rules but are a drain on the landlord’s life, village leaders claim the new draft includes the option to pay them three months’ rent or more — depending on circumstances — to get out.
Village residents and outside experts will again be able to comment on this when the new hearing is opened at the next Village Board meeting.
Mayor: new laws would address housing crunch
Several people who have spoken about good-cause eviction have asserted that such a law doesn’t address the actual problem: there’s not enough housing in New Paltz for all the people who want to be in New Paltz. Solutions offered have ranged from accepting that not everyone can afford to live in the community, to overcoming anti-development pressure exerted by many current residents in order to expand housing stock locally. Mayor Tim Rogers believes that two other laws now being considered would help ease this crisis. One of these would make it easier to build accessory apartments into homes, making more rentals available and also helping homeowners stay put. The other would convert B1 zoning along Main and Chestnut streets into B2 zoning, which would allow for buildings that are wider, longer, and taller and for those buildings to be used in a greater variety of ways.
The zoning switch would “leverage the affordable housing law,” which requires ten percent of rental units be priced as “affordable” and rented only to people on an income-based eligibility list; both of these are based on a formula that considers market housing rates and income levels. Rogers dismissed suggestions that this would make New Paltz into something like Queens, instead comparing it to the fictional Stars Hollow from the Gilmore Girls television program. While that town exists only on a Warner Brothers lot in California, it’s said to accurately capture the feel of a Connecticut suburb. The mayor believes that the three-story maximum proposed at this time is not excessive, although some residents balked when a three-story building was constructed at 51 Main Street several years ago. More flexibility in what to build and how large will lead to expansion of residential and commercial uses alike, Rogers feels, which would “feed several birds with one scone.”
Rezoning will require a new hearing to be set, after the one on the current version received no comment for months until a small number of residents finally chimed in during August sessions, with most supportive. A new version will include a provision for plans to be reviewed in the Historic Preservation Commission, which had been unintentionally omitted in the original.
One bone of contention about accessory apartments is that trustees didn’t include more parking as a requirement, which worries people who live on streets with many rentals and few street parking spots as a result. The rationale is that building for cars encourages people to bring their cars and the opposite is desired by village leaders. This law may also need a new hearing, but that was unclear as of the August 25 Village Board meeting. County Planning Board members feel that these apartments shouldn’t need Planning Board approval if the footprint of the house isn’t being changed. Rogers asked the village attorney to decide if that’s a big enough change to warrant a new hearing or not.