There will be no additional tenant rights or protections passed into law in the Village of New Paltz for the foreseeable future. While a law limiting ways to get a tenant out of a rental to a handful of “good causes,” as well as another allowing tenants to oppose a rent increase for being unreasonable, have been generally supported by Mayor Tim Rogers and all four trustees, the potential cost of having to defend these untested legal concepts is seen by most of them as an unacceptable risk. Despite consistent pressure to pass these measures quickly, four out of five on this board prefer to see how a case against a similar law in Albany will be decided.
As framed by the mayor, the problem is that a Village treasury would be sorely pressed by legal fees, and there’s no case law that squarely lines up with what’s being attempted here. That means it’s uncertain if a case could even be won. It’s possible a judge could decide that provided a new way to fight higher rent is preempted by rent control, a process that if passed in the Village would only impact a handful of larger buildings. It’s also possible that limiting the reasons for denying a lease renewal would be deemed preempted by that same state law, or that it violates one or more constitutional clauses. There are legal decisions that can be used to predict decisions in either directions. A judge in Westchester wrote in a decision not long ago that “property owners who offer their properties for rent do not suffer from a taking based on laws that regulate the rental of that property,” in a case that was specifically about rent control. On the other hand, an attorney for the state’s Conference of Mayors found cases where preemption was a deciding factor in striking down a local law.
Testimony during the public hearing preceding this discussion was rife with the emotional language that has characterized this entire process, such as warnings about widespread bankruptcy of landlords, or of tenants being forced from their homes. For the Many staffer Brahvan Ranga claimed that the process in New Paltz has taken too long, but landlords who spoke unsurprisingly praised the slow unfolding as thoughtful and deliberative. Some used the numerous typographical and grammatical errors in these drafts as evidence that more thought and attention need to be given to these proposals, not less. There were claims that these laws would lead to the extinction of the local landlord, with all rental properties falling into corporate ownership instead. Others repeated a call for data about Village rentals in particular to justify these changes.
One of the factors weighing heavily on minds is that the eviction moratorium in the state is no more. It’s not clear that either of these laws would protect anyone from being evicted — a process that must be carried out by deputies of the county sheriff, only after a judge has signed a warrant of eviction. One of these laws would require leases to be renewed in most cases, which does keep people in their homes, but asking someone to move due to a lease expiring is normal turnover, and would only require eviction if a tenant did not move. It’s possible that advocates imagine that, due to the limited availability of alternatives, that tenants may feel they have no choice other than to overstay their welcome.
Rogers observed that no matter how the case against the Albany law is decided, it is likely to be appealed. The decision on that appeal will then be case law in New Paltz, and that clearer path forward would not be on the backs of Village taxpayers — who, by extension, include anyone who pays rent to someone who pays property taxes. Deputy Mayor Alexandra Wojcik, who has championed these reforms, noted that an offer was made by members of the local legal aid society to handle defense of these laws, if passed. Rogers recommended that a memorandum of understand be drafted; if it passes muster, it’s possible more of the trustees would be willing to move forward with one or the other of these laws. The drama is likely to continue to unfold for some time to come.