Village of New Paltz trustees have decided to reorganize priorities on how to respond to the ongoing housing crisis. Having debated what’s been branded as “good-cause eviction” legislation, most trustees are now in favor of considering a law to rein in “unconscionable” rent increases as a first step. The proposal brought forward by Alexandria Wojcik, the deputy mayor, wove that idea together with stronger enforcement of the rental registry, while also creating a new right for a tenant to renew a housing lease unless there was good cause for a landlord to deny that renewal. Good causes include moving a relative into that space, the breaking of rules or laws, or simply paying the tenant three months’ rent to get out. A tenant could bring the landlord to court, and then a judge would decide.
Separating out sections of this bill has already begun. References to the rental registry have been taken out, and may be revisited as a separate law. The new registry rules would have blocked landlords from collecting rent from any tenant, if any properties owned by that landlord had a serious safety issue. While landlords could ask for that rent once the situation was corrected, not coughing it up wouldn’t in itself be grounds for eviction.
Trustees have spent considerable time trying to hash out how best to strike the balance between keeping people housed and allowing others control of their own real property. The fact that a right to renew has yet to be tested in the courts weighed heavily on the discussion. A law with that provision is on the books in Albany, and most of the trustees would rather see what happens if and when it’s challenged in court, rather than burdening their own constituents with potentially high legal bills.
In that context, William Wheeler Murray noted that the tenants speaking in favor of this law most often shared stories not of lease renewals denied, but of high rent increases. The first draft empowered judges to consider “unconscionable” rent increases, and Wheeler Murray would like to explore how those hikes can be reined in short of passing legislation to control rents outright. Rent control is theoretically possible throughout the state, but only when the vacancy rate is below five percent. Mayor Tim Rogers has already drafted a separate law on that issue, and will now ask an attorney to review it and report back. Other aspects of the original bill will also be taken up at later dates, separately.