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Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan Signs Local Housing Laws

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan signs fair housing laws. (August 6, 2021)
Dave Lucas / WAMC
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan signs fair housing laws. (August 6, 2021)

Mayor Kathy Sheehan has signed a package of local fair housing laws including one requiring "good cause” before a tenant can be evicted.

Sheehan introduced the legislation in March and the Common Council passed Local Laws F, G and H in July.

The Democrat running for a third term signed the package Friday, saying it will improve the relationship between a landlord and tenant by mandating landlords educate tenants on their rights and responsibilities. The legislation empowers the city to intervene to make necessary repairs and charge the property owner, rather than deem a building unsafe and unfit.

Sheehan says the goal is to decrease the number of vacant, abandoned, and sometimes demolished, buildings.

"My administration has committed itself to improving the quality of life in our city, attracting investment and combating blight in our historically redlined neighborhoods. And this transformative legislation is going to allow us to have additional tools to accomplish that goal. These laws will empower the city's building and regulatory compliance department to proactively address emergencies. It modernizes our rental dwelling registry, and it creates the first good cause eviction law in New York state."

Landlords must now demonstrate "good cause" to evict tenants, and are prohibited from raising rent more than 5% a year when such a hike could be interpreted as being implemented to circumvent eviction laws.

"There have been 341 evictions filed in Albany so far this year. And there were 1,553 that were filed in 2020. So let me say that again, we've had between those two years, nearly 2000 eviction filings during a period of time when we have an eviction moratorium. In 2019, there were 4,120 eviction filings in the city of Albany. That means in 2019, more than 8000 residents were impacted by evictions, or one in six renter families. What we also know about those evictions is that nearly 70% of known eviction addresses have had code violations in 2020. Almost half had at least one case open this year, and nearly a quarter are still in violation or in prosecution right now, of those code violations. More than 40% of known eviction addresses are proceeding through the court system without a valid residential occupancy permit."

The legislation also allows the Department of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance to revoke a residential occupancy permit when an owner seriously neglects their property.

Sheehan says "the looming housing crisis" underlines the importance of the legislation as the eviction moratorium runs out. She stressed the package is not an "anti-landlord initiative" and added: "We must pay landlords, we cannot expect them to keep up buildings and pay property taxes and maintain their buildings, if they are not able to collect rent."

Citizen Action organizer Gabriel Silva says it sends a message to all the other cities across New York... "...that when we organize, we win. So this was a historic step forward for our housing movement. But it was only the first step. Next, I really look forward to working with our state legislators to make this a reality for the rest of New Yorkers. And I also look forward to passing similar legislation such as right to counsel and legislation to finally address the lead crisis that we deal with in upstate New York. There's still a lot that we have to do, but today, we are accomplishing something huge."

Earlier this year Albany received a $1 million RISE grant from the office of state Attorney General Tish James. The program provides municipalities with funding to launch innovative programs related to housing and strategic code enforcement.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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