ALBANY — New protections for tenants in the Capital Region and across upstate are included in legislative deal struck late Tuesday to extend New York City’s rent control laws.
In addition to allowing qualifying municipalities to participate in a rent-stabilization program, the omnibus legislation also limits security deposits to one month’s rent, strengthens legal protections against retaliatory evictions, requires advance notice of a rent increase of more than 5 percent, and extends eviction processes.
The measure, which is expected to be considered on Friday in the Capitol, isn’t as aggressive as pro-tenant groups had hoped and landlords had feared, in part because it leaves out so-called “good-cause eviction” protections, which would essentially prohibit eviction except in limited circumstances and enables tenants to challenge large rent increases in court.
“That bill has been scrapped and we’re not moving that forward,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, a Round Lake Democrat.
“There was a sense we can address the principles (of good-cause eviction) by putting some better protections around the eviction process,” Woerner said. “This ensures that tenants aren’t kicked out of their apartment prematurely.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he will sign the legislation when it reaches his desk.
The agreement takes one of a handful of high-profile outstanding issues off the table for the final week of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end on June 19. State lawmakers are still considering action on marijuana legalization, vaccination requirements, surrogacy agreements and climate change protections.
On Wednesday, the state Assembly moved controversial legislation that would enable immigrants who are living in the country illegally to apply for a driver’s licenses. The measure is backed by Cuomo, but it has an uphill climb in the state Senate, where the Democratic majority hasn’t committed to passing it.
The housing legislation also creates the possibility that rent stabilization provisions, which ensure tenants have a right to renew their lease and avoid sharp increases in rent, can be implemented by cities, towns and villages with a vacancy rate below 5 percent. The protections would be limited to buildings with at least six rental units and that were built before 1974.
Critics of the measure warn that it could have a “chilling effect” on efforts to rehabilitate dilapidated properties. They contend a limited return on investment would discourage developers.
“You don’t need to throw another regulatory obstacle on upstate New York,” said E.J. McMahon, research director for the fiscally conservative Empire Center for Public Policy.
To address that concern, upstate lawmakers included language in the measure that would prohibit the rent stabilization requirements from applying to buildings that were vacant for at least a year.
Assemblyman John McDonald, a Cohoes Democrat, said most municipal leaders aren’t clamoring for rent stabilization and he’s skeptical that most communities would be eligible for the program. “The city of Albany may fit that model,” he said.
If Albany, where the common council expressed interest in the program, decided to move ahead with the system, a study would be needed to confirm the city has a vacancy rate below 5 percent.
After listening to the “horror stories” of tenants during a hearing last month, McDonald said he came away thinking the state needs to give municipalities the resources to adequately apply the local building codes. He said a “rigorous” focus on enforcement will help ensure tenants and landlords are operating on an equal playing field.
© 2019 Times Union
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