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Ithaca Common Council passes Good Cause Eviction Law by 8-2 vote

Nearly five hours into a sometimes raucous Ithaca Common Council meeting, the proposal for a local law enacting a version of New York State’s Good Cause Eviction Law passed by an 8-2 vote. The law will go into effect in the city of Ithaca upon the signature of Mayor Robert Cantelmo.

“Tonight’s vote is a resounding victory for fair housing, housing stability and a fair settlement for landlord-tenant relations,” Mayor Cantelmo said in a statement after the meeting. “I am grateful to the community and my fellow council members for this historic legislation.”

Mayor Cantelmo wrote a guest column with Councilwoman Anna Kelles in support of the legislation. “While there is much more work to be done to address the current affordable housing crisis, enacting these tenant protections locally will offer our city the unique opportunity to provide thousands of Ithacans with improved housing stability that will have far-reaching, positive socio-economic impacts throughout our community,” they said.

Related: Opinion: Common Council has power to protect tenants under new state law

Also known as a “Right to Renewal” law, the Good Cause Eviction Law prohibits a landlord from evicting a tenant without “good cause” for doing so, but also prohibits a landlord from not renewing a tenant’s lease without good cause, effectively providing tenants a right of first refusal to renew their leases and stay in their homes.

Under the law, the following constitute “good cause” for a landlord to evict or refuse to renew a tenant’s lease:

  • The tenant has failed to pay the due rent, which did not constitute an unreasonable increase;
  • Breach of a material obligation of one’s tenancy;
  • Discomfort;
  • Occupancy of the dwelling contravenes or causes a violation of the law;
  • Tenant uses or permits residential accommodation for illegal purposes;
  • The tenant has unreasonably refused access to the landlord to carry out necessary repairs or
    improvements by law or for the purpose of showing off the home for a
    prospective purchaser;
  • The landlord seeks in good faith to regain possession of a home for the landlord
    own personal use and accommodation as the landlord’s main residence, or the personal use and
    residence as the principal residence of the landlord’s immediate family;
  • Efforts in good faith in the event of demolition;
  • Good faith attempt to withdraw the home from the housing market;
  • The tenant fails to agree to reasonable changes to a lease upon renewal

The city of Ithaca’s version of the law passed by the New York State Legislature in April removes an exemption for most small landlords; state law exempts small landlords, defined as owning no more than ten rental units, and Ithaca’s law defines small landlords as owning no more than one apartment.

The New York State law was immediately applied to New York City, but left it up to other municipalities in the state to “choose” and/or create their own modified versions of the law.

Wednesday night’s final vote came after motions by Councilwoman Margaret Fabrizio to table the issue until the Common Council had an additional opportunity to discuss the legislation and gather more community input and to amend the Ithaca law to restore the state’s definition of a small landlord as an owner. up to ten units instead of one. Both motions were voted down.

In the end, Common Council members Fabrizio and David Shapiro voted against the legislation.

The Ithaca Tenants Union says the City of Ithaca version matched the Albany, Kingston and Poughkeepsie legislation in lowering the “small landlord” exemption to a single unit and raising a high rent exemption threshold from state law’s 245% of “fair market value.” ” to 345%. (As “fair market” rent is currently defined, that means two-bedroom apartments renting for more than $5,740 per month would not be covered by the law.)

The law still exempts subsidized housing (a broad category that often has its own tenant protections) and buildings that have received their certificates of occupancy within 30 years, although that 30-year period is defined in state law as beginning with buildings built in 2009 Tenancies owned by schools, including colleges, are also exempt from the law.

The new local law further allows tenants to challenge a landlord’s attempt to raise the rent by more than 10% per year, or 5% plus the CPI per year, whichever is lower.

“Tenants tell us, I asked for repairs — pest control or mold removal — and was rewarded with a non-renewal,” said Ithaca Tenants Union President Katie Sims, who volunteers on the ITU’s tenant helpline, during the public comment period at Wednesday night’s meeting . “We have these rights on paper, but using them can cause you to not renew.”

Landlords who attended the meeting to speak out against the local law in its proposed form, including local landlord Anita Graf, said they felt “blindsided” by a proposal based on the new state law that Mayor Cantelmo first circulated among city staff for review in May, and didn’t present to the Common Council until last month, according to the timeline shared by Mayor Cantelmo. (Similar proposals have come to the Common Council in recent years, though the issue was ultimately put on hold in 2022 until the state law could make it through the Legislature.)

Both the state and local legislation being written will expire on June 15, 2034, unless renewed.

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