During last week’s New Paltz Village Board meeting, several people commented on the push to enact “good-cause eviction” legislation, which would redefine not renewing a lease as an eviction and require landlords to provide lease renewals unless there is good cause not to, such as breaking laws or lease conditions by the tenant, or the landlord wishing to put up a relative in the space; landlords could also just pay people to get out. Trustees have all expressed agreement that renters are in a precarious position due to an ongoing housing shortage, and have opted to see how judges rules on these laws in other jurisdictions before risking tax dollars to defend such a law here. None of that came through in the comments made, however. Those who spoke expressed anger and frustration, suggesting that trustees were beholden to landlords by “refusing” to pass such a law. Milton resident Suzannah Chim said that these additional protections are needed to keep people from moving to that town. “For the Many” staff member Brahvan Ranga pointed out that the group has been successful in replacing elected officials in the past, and that such a campaign could be waged in the Village. Rogers later characterized that as “troubling” pressure, because the implication was that trustees should pass this law without giving it due consideration. For a time Alex Wojcik, the Village’s Deputy Mayor, was openly encouraging the other trustees to do just that. Wojcik hasn’t said anything along those lines at a public meeting since the other four board members opted to hold off on a vote.
Mayor Tim Rogers expressed the opinion of the majority of trustees, that passing a law which is later overruled would do nothing to protect tenants. A letter has been sent to the state’s attorney general asking for an opinion on whether state law preempts this since it adds conditions to evictions, but even if Letitia James gives the green light it doesn’t mean that a judge won’t find some or all portions of these laws to be illegal for other reasons. The mayor has also expressed skepticism that the language of this widely-circulated draft would achieve the protection sought in any case.
Ranga has repeatedly dismissed as ineffective another approach, focusing on controlling “unconscionable” rent increases alone, saying that unless it’s coupled with protection against eviction, it won’t do much good. State rent-control rules wouldn’t do much in New Paltz; only 16 buildings in the Village have enough units to be impacted even if it were in effect here. There’s a clause in the “good cause” drafts being circulated around the state about “unconscionable” rent, but it lacks specifics. State law requires that written notice be provided when a rent increase is in excess of five percent. That figure is used in these drafts, but the matter would have to be decided by a judge.
“Just touching on the concept generally doesn’t get us where we need to go,” Rogers said when reached after the meeting. “The ‘good cause’ law provides no guidelines for a judge to determine what’s unconscionable. I anticipate it will be more effective in protecting tenants.” Part of the mayor’s concern is that a law that can’t be easily understood without the aid of an attorney is not going to be invoked by people who don’t have access to one.