Some of the people who rent out property in the Village of New Paltz are slowly coming to terms with a proposed law that would force them to renew leases for tenants except for “good cause,” which would include circumstances such as moving in a family member, or tenants breaking lease rules or local laws; one clause would allow a tenant to be paid off in order to get the owner out of signing a new lease. However, author Alexandria Wojcik faced tough questions at last week’s Village Board from the Mayor and other trustees, each of whom had concerns and none of whom were willing to take it on faith that the wording must not be altered. While they may be supportive of the concept, they are looking to Wojcik to show the work to prove it.
Rental owner Daniel Scherer is “coming around to the idea of this law,” despite observing that “not one person talked about problems in New Paltz,” at least presently. Where other rental owners have said that this is a “solution in search of the problem,” Scherer said it could “forestall problems in the future.” However, Scherer suggested waiting to see if the county legislature might act first.
Maggie Veve described “soul-searching” since initially coming out against this law; Veve feels that the newest version is “closer to being fair.”
Mayor Tim Rogers, who has self-identified as a “landlord in favor of this law,” brought a number of issues to the fore. For one, Rogers doesn’t appear comfortable calling the passive act of not renewing a lease a “de facto eviction,” as it was termed in one version of this proposed law. Wojcik’s position is that by creating a new right to renew, not renewing a lease would be included because this is “expanding the definition of eviction.” William Wheeler Murray and Michele Zipp agreed with the Mayor.
Another area that generated some concern was perceived imbalance created by requiring landlords to provide written notice of intent to renew or not, but not expecting tenants to provide any response at all. Wojcik explained that trying to find new housing for a tenant is time-consuming, and asserted that requiring more than the current “confirmable[sic] written notice” from the property owner might result in a murky conflict with state laws regarding holdover tenants, those who remain after a lease expires or ownership changes. Stana Weisburd didn’t think it would be right only to let the owner know the day before the lease runs out, perhaps because most people who rent out property have taken the risk of borrowing money and depend on rent to pay off those loans. Wojcik “struggled with” not including a response time for tenants, and asserted that “no scenario works” without providing the specifics leading to that conclusion.
Rogers said that only imposing notice requirements on one party “creates an awkward situation for all.”
Wojcik offered as a compromise a notification not based on when the owner provides notice, but the expiration of the lease, saying that it “doesn’t seem right to tie it to the landlord’s notice.” Asked about what happens if a tenant never responds, Wojcik replied, “Ideally that won’t happen,” but later added that it’s a “lot easier to find a tenant in this community.” Others on the board didn’t think 30 days would be sufficient, and settled on 45.
“We’ll see what feedback we get from that idea,” said Rogers.
The portion of this proposed law laying out what a judge might consider in determining that rent is “unconscionable” led to another lengthy discussion. Rogers, for example, wasn’t clear on how improvements to the building could or should be tied to the fact that a tenant has failed to pay rent. “Not all parts of the law . . . need to make sense to all of us,” said Wojcik. Questions and suggestions about adjusting the wording to make it clearer got similar responses.
Rogers said that it’s “hard to sign onto a law I can’t understand.”
“I don’t trust a layman’s language to work for the people it needs to work for,” said Wojcik.
With no one strongly supporting the Deputy Mayor’s vision, trustees agreed to revisit this at another time, when it can be addressed earlier in the evening and at greater length.