Good Cause Eviction law hotly debated in Kingston, January vote looms

Good Cause Eviction in the City of Kingston will likely be settled in January by the entire Common Council after the proposed legislation was advanced by a 3-2 vote of the Laws and Rules Committee on Wednesday, November 17.

“Good cause” evictions are identified in the proposed law as failure to pay rent, violating terms of a lease, causing a nuisance, violation of the law, or if the owner is selling the building. Supporters of the legislation feel it’s a vital step in giving renters a sense of security in an exploding housing market by capping annual rent increases at 5 percent.

“Renters in the City of Kingston, especially low- and moderate-income renters, are increasingly faced with the refusal of landlords to continue to rent to otherwise creditworthy tenants, and tenants who are otherwise following all applicable laws,” said Democratic Majority Leader Reynolds Scott-Childress (Ward 3). “Tenants throughout the city have experienced steeply increased rents that threaten the general welfare of our city. We have seen large numbers of our neighbors displaced because they cannot afford increasing rents. The purpose of this law is to protect tenants from exorbitant rent increases that could result in increased homelessness and further displacement within the city.”

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Voting in favor of Good Cause Eviction were Democratic aldermen Scott-Childress (Ward 3), Jeffrey Ventura Morell (Ward 1), and Rita Worthington (Ward 4). Opposed were Democrat Don Tallerman (Ward 5) and non-enrolled Ward 7 alderman Patrick O’Reilly, with the latter saying the legislation would do more harm than good. 

“It’s going to hurt housing in the City of Kingston,” O’Reilly said. “We’re going to have less housing, and those people that we’re trying to help, we’re actually going to hurt in the long run. And that sometimes happens. Good deeds sometimes turn out to do not good things because they weren’t thought through properly…This is going to scare people from investing in our city. It’s going to scare people from investing in housing.”

Tallerman agreed. 

“It’s hurtful to developers who want to come to our city,” he said. “It’s hurtful to owners of multi-family homes because it makes it more risky to have a multi-family property because tenants can potentially stay for a very long time, or indefinitely. I just think that there are a lot of problems with this law.”

Worthington countered that it was also important to address issues facing the city in the present. 

“You keep talking about the future,” she said. “I understand that we have to look at the future…but our concern is what’s happening right now. I’m walking up and down Broadway and I see people sitting on those pretty benches that the people put out. On Broadway. The calls that we get from people not being able to afford to stay in their apartments.”

O’Reilly said the proposed legislation wouldn’t solve that problem. 

“I know people are experiencing crazy rents, I understand that,” he said. “I don’t think this is a way to handle that. I think really what we’re doing is there’s a gushing hole and we’re trying to stop it with this legislation. But…What’s our purpose? Our purpose is to house people, get them housing. This isn’t going to do that. This is actually going to do the opposite of that…Right now we should be giving people a check and saying we’re going to do this until things get better. And in the meantime, why aren’t we building some buildings?”

Scott-Childress said that Good Cause Eviction laws help bring balance to the relationship between landlords and tenants. “Our current law tends to favor property owners,” he said. “This law does very little to alter the power of landlords. It provides for a reasonable rent increase on a yearly basis. It provides for clarity in terms of when a landlord can evict somebody from a home. Those points are pretty much standard in most contracts anyway. So all we’re really doing here is codifying what is to a great extent what exists currently.”

Scott-Childress also disputed the criticism that Good Cause Eviction legislation was an unformed idea. “The state of New Jersey has had a law like this on the books for 40 years,” he said. “They’ve had a regulation against unconscionable rent increases, and two things are clear from their experience. One is that it hasn’t dimmed the market for building houses there at all. I don’t know if you’ve been to Jersey City lately, but that place is just experiencing amazing housing growth. So I think that any argument that this would be deleterious to the development of housing just doesn’t work in terms of the actual evidence that we’ve got…So this is not something that’s brand new. This is not something that’s out of the science fiction world. It’s been tried and there’s clear evidence that this is something that’s really important for tenants.”

Good Cause Eviction has already received support from Kingston Mayor Steve Noble, who held a press conference on the issue back on September 1. “At a time when we are in the midst of both a housing crisis and an ongoing global pandemic, we believe that passing Good Cause Eviction will not only help protect tenants, it will be beneficial for our city, homeowners and neighborhoods, and good landlords as well,” Noble said. “Everyone deserves a safe, secure place to live, and Good Cause Eviction gives tenants the power to demand safe living conditions without fear of retaliation. We know that housing instability has profound effects on a person’s well-being, including physical and mental health, academic success and gainful employment. This legislation would be one step in helping everyone in our community have adequate housing.”

Rashida Tyler of the Real Kingston Tenants Union and the Ulster County Coalition for Housing Justice also spoke in favor of Good Cause Eviction during Noble’s September press conference. “Good Cause eviction legislation will help keep many Kingston residents in their homes, and stem the tide of displacement that has only deepened the pandemic began,” said Tyler. “There are many tenants throughout the city who are at risk of eviction despite paying their rent on time and being exemplary tenants. We need Good Cause Eviction legislation to help provide stability for our community.”

The proposed law was amended during the debate on November 17 to limit the legislation to buildings with more than four rental units as a means of lessening the impact on “mom and pop” landlords. 

Good Cause Eviction legislation will now move to the full Common Council, likely to receive its first reading at their next meeting scheduled for Tuesday, December 7. The council can’t take action on the proposed law until a second reading, which could mean a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, January 4.