Bricktionary

What is the 'good cause' eviction bill and what could it mean for NYC renters?

A housing rally in support of the bill last month. 

 

Senator Michael Gianaris/Flickr

Share this Article

2019
BRICK UNDERGROUND’S
Holiday Tipping Poll
Holiday Tipping Poll
How much do you plan to tip the building staff this year?

As the rent reform deadline approaches, it's worth considering the good cause eviction bill, one of a slate of reforms that could change the rental landscape in NYC. The good cause eviction bill would bring about universal rent control not just in the city but the entire state.

And, significantly, it would mean tenants in nearly all market-rate apartments who are paying their rent and not doing anything disruptive would be legally entitled to having their leases renewed. It would also cap rent increases. 

The bill is aimed at stopping "unconscionable" rent hikes being used as a way of forcing tenants out of their apartments and tells landlords that the only way they can refuse to renew a tenant's lease is if there is a "good cause," like refusing to pay or doing something illegal.

Currently, there are no protections for market-rate tenants when it comes to lease renewal. A landlord can decide not to renew and there's little you can do about it. This bill aims to correct that.

“This is a monumental change,” says Sam Himmelstein, a condo and co-op attorney with the law firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribbin, Donaghue, & Joseph (and also a Brick Underground sponsor).

So what is a “good cause”?

If a tenant isn’t paying the rent, that would constitute “good cause” for a landlord to evict, according to the bill. Likewise, any “violation of a substantial obligation of the tenancy” would make you vulnerable to being kicked out of your apartment. Bringing in a pet when it isn't allowed, putting in a prohibited appliance, altering the apartment—all these would fall into that category. 

Causing a nuisance, or illegal use of the unit would also be grounds for eviction. That means no Airbnb guests while you are out of town, no subletting and no disruptive behavior that harms the building or the neighbors. Lawmakers are saying if you're a good tenant, paying your bills and being a good neighbor, you should be able to renew your lease and not be subject to a big rent increase.

There's also the question of a landlord wanting to sell. What happens then? The only other “good cause” for eviction outlined in the bill is if the landlord or their "close relatives wanted to use the apartment as their primary residence.” Himmelstein says the bill doesn’t list the sale of the building as one of the grounds for a “good cause” eviction, so if the landlord wanted to sell, he wouldn't be able to evict tenants to deliver it empty.

How might this play out?

Clearly, a landlord might say he or she wants to use the apartment as their primary residence with no intention of actually doing so, just as a means of removing a tenant. The bill does create a “private right of action” for tenants to close this potential loophole but how effective it would be, remains to be seen. Himmelstein says "the provision is probably meaningless."

He says first, you'd have to prove your landlord had lied which might involve scoping out the apartment, which is totally impractical. Secondly, it probably isn't worth the damages. It would amount to moving expenses or possibly the cost differential in rent.

You may be in a situation where your lease has expired but you are still in the rental. Himmelstein says if a landlord accepts a rent payment beyond the lease term, you become a month-to-month tenant and will have a 30-day notice period to vacate the apartment. 

As with all the ideas around rent reform there are as many detractors as there are supporters. Plenty of landlords are arguing fiercely they have every right to operate their businesses without government regulation.  This argument is especially strong in more conservative areas beyond the five boroughs. There are certainly no guarantees the bill will become law.