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New York judge strikes down Albany's "good cause" eviction law

Albany City Hall at twilight.
WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Albany City Hall (WAMC file photo)

A New York State Supreme Court judge has struck down Albany’s “good cause” eviction law.

Legislation approved by the Common Council and signed by Albany Democratic Mayor Kathy Sheehanrequires landlords to demonstrate “good cause” to evict tenants and prohibits annual rent increases of more than 5 percent, when such a hike could be interpreted as being implemented to circumvent eviction laws. The law was the first of its kind in New York.

A suit against Local Law F was brought by local landlords – who were successful.

On Thursday, Judge Christina Ryba ruled the law barred by conflict preemption.

Attorney Ben Neidl of firm E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy represented the landlords.

“The plaintiffs are very pleased with the decision. We regarded the Albany law as illegal on its face in contravention of state law and this decision will restore the balance of rights between landlords and tenants that state law currently intends,” said Neidl.

Speaking with WAMC Friday, Mayor Sheehan said the city is reviewing judge’s decision to determine a “best path forward.”

“One of the things that I have tasked our corporation counsel and her team with is determining are there changes that we can make now that address the preemption argument that she found persuasive so that we can implement parts of it immediately so that we can at least move forward when it comes to evictions with ensuring that landlords are acting in good faith and that individuals are not evicted from their apartments without good cause,” said Sheehan.

10th Ward City Councilor Owusu Anane, a fellow Democrat, called the decision a “slap in the face” for tenants and said he would work to appeal the decision.

This outcome demonstrates why the state needs to act on this critical issue. We are in this together in this pandemic. We have to protect those who are marginalized those who are vulnerable among us.”

Albany’s “good cause” eviction law was approved during the pandemic, at a time of uncertainty for renters. Other communities followed suit, including Beacon, Newburgh, and Kingston.

Reached by WAMC Friday, Beacon City Administrator Chris White said the city attorney is reviewing the judge’s decision.

Advocates pushed for a statewide “good cause” law during the state legislative session, with frequent demonstrations outside the Capitol.

Luke Grandis, Upstate lead organizer with group VOCAL-NY, said the judge’s decision further demonstrates the need for a statewide law.

“We know that we can continue to fight this, we can even get this passed at the local level and potentially have it stay intact, even, if we appeal this decision and continue to push it forward. But we will not be safe and tenants will not be safe until we pass this at the statewide level, and that is really what we’re seeing here,” said Grandis.

Sheehan agrees.

“We really hope that the state takes action to protect tenants and to ensure that we are doing all that we can to provide stability in housing in our city. We know that lack of access to stable housing really undermines families, it impacts school performance, and it impacts people’s ability, oftentimes, to even maintain a job when they are depending on the transit system that exists where their home is and if they’re not able to maintain that home, it can really upend their entire lives,” said Sheehan.

Republican State Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt called the judge’s decision “good news for private property and free enterprise” and called for similar laws to be struck down across New York.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.