When New Paltz Village Trustees discussed the so-called “good cause” eviction law on September 8, there was general agreement that this was something that should be addressed on a night when it could be raised earlier in the evening, when minds are more focused. However, discuss it after nine o’clock is again what happened, as it was added to the agenda for the September 22 meeting after it was called to order. Deputy mayor Alexandria Wojcik, who has cobbled this bill together from a variety of sources, didn’t want to agree to hold a workshop meeting just to discuss it without first getting more information about what it will take to convince the four other board members to vote in favor.
This proposal is one that’s intended to keep rules-abiding tenants in their homes by guaranteeing lease renewals, unless the landlord has good cause not to continue the relationship. A “good cause” might be to do renovations or to let the unit to a family member, among others; a landlord could also pay the tenant two or three months’ worth of rent to leave. Whether the cause is good enough would have to be decided by a judge — if a tenant decided to bring the matter to court.
Several individuals spoke about the proposal during public comment. Trustees were praised for a democratic and transparent process, and also asked if it might not be easier to provide incentives to renew leases, since the fifth amendment calls for “just compensation.” Others lauded how this would address the instability that results simply from being a tenant.
With housing already at a premium, there’s also been a lot of interest coming from people who work in New York City but would rather not live there any longer. Amanda Sisenstein noted that when a landlord doesn’t renew a lease, it’s easy to find a tenant from this new market, where people have higher incomes than many current residents and are often willing to pay much more in rent. If passed, this law would allow a judge to decide if a particular rent increase should be deemed “unconscionable.”
This law was called “a bit of a doodlebug” by Trustee William Wheeler Murray, referring to Depression-era tractors that were cobbled together from whatever was handy. During the discussion Wojcik agreed that some of the borrowed language didn’t make sense in New Paltz, or perhaps should be part of a different law altogether. The deputy mayor suggested stripping out some of the details about what constitutes a good cause, since ultimately that’s a judge’s job to determine, as well as language about affordability, because that’s best reserved for a different law.
Mayor Tim Rogers raised the issue of landlords not being able to collect rent from any tenant if the registration status of a single rental unit was in peril. This is a clause that’s intended to make sure that landlords are motivated to address code violations that might get an apartment taken off the registry.
“Did we not address that well in the last meeting?” Wojcik asked. Rogers said that they had not, and Wojcik responded by saying, “Oh, maybe I’ve addressed it in so many other documents. That might be it.” That clause is complicated by the fact that many properties are held under limited liability corporations. However, Wojcik is more focused on the spirit of protection invoked in this law. “I don’t know why we would even imagine we would write that [the law] wouldn’t affect other properties. . . . nothing here prevents collecting rents once the violations are cured.”
However, Rogers prefers laws that are easy to enforce, and feels that not knowing who is behind each of those LLCs would make that provision a tough one. The mayor also wants a law that is easily understood by a tenant. Wojcik disagrees with that point, saying that while “translations” into clear language are possible, that for this law to be effective it must largely be comprised of dense legal language. Rogers feel that that approach “would just be protecting the lawyer class.”
The conversation will continue at a workshop meeting scheduled for September 29 at 5:30 p.m.