As the April 1 deadline for the New York State budget draws near, various factions among the Democrat supermajority that dominates Albany have drawn lines in the sand. Governor Kathy Hochul insists that she wants to give judges more discretion in setting terms on the release of violent criminals, though she faces firm resistance from the legislature. A broad set of housing proposals is also in the mix, and an epic round of horse-trading is in progress to hammer out a deal that will satisfy both sides of the aisle: the Left and the hard Left.
There’s no more worrisome sign of how far New York has drifted—or been steered—toward official socialism than the possibility that “Good Cause Eviction” is on the table in Albany and possibly headed toward passage. Named in the venerable progressive tradition of calling things by what they aren’t, Good Cause Eviction has nothing to do either with “good causes” or “eviction.” The legislation—the most radical version by far of similar laws in a few other jurisdictions—would give all tenants statewide perpetual rights of residence at their current rent, with increases capped at a minimal level.
What the proponents of the bill call “eviction” is an abuse of ordinary language. Eviction normally means that a tenant is forced to vacate, justly or not, a property he rents, typically for reasons of nonpayment of rent or an egregious violation of the conditions of the lease. The Good Cause Eviction law radically expands the definition of eviction to cover an increase in the rent that the tenant prefers not to pay. A tenant in an unregulated, market-rate apartment who decides to move rather than accept a 5 percent or 10 percent rent increase is, in the logic of the bill’s supporters, a victim of eviction.
Good Cause Eviction would cap rent increases at 3 percent, or 150 percent of the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is higher, in all rental units except those in small, owner-occupied buildings. Landlords would be obligated to offer tenants a renewal lease every year unless they can demonstrate that they need the unit to house themselves or a close relative.
But the costs associated with the maintenance of housing stock that is often 100 years old can be unpredictable and wildly outstrip CPI. The cost of property taxes, variable mortgage interest, insurance, heating oil, repairs, and renovations will force property owners seeking a higher rent adjustment to enter housing court to fight for an exemption from the rent-increase cap. Tenants, it may be noted, now enjoy a right to counsel in housing court, and can get a free state-funded attorney to represent them; property owners must cover the cost of their representation. The backlog in housing court is now measured in years, so landlords must be prepared to swallow costs for an extraordinary period before even getting a chance at recouping their losses.
Critics of the proposal have called it “universal rent control,” which advocates insist is not reflective of the bill’s intents or purposes. In fact, it would be more accurate to describe Good Cause Eviction as a massive power grab. If passed, the law would bring 4 million privately owned rental units across New York State under an extraordinary regulatory regime that would effectively amount to seizing ownership. It would become nearly impossible to sell these properties, at least at current valuation, because potential buyers would be constrained in their use of the buildings. Purchasing properties in undervalued neighborhoods with the intention of renovating and rehabilitating them would become an uneconomic proposition. Development would grind to a halt, as new units would immediately fall under the law.
The key sponsor of Good Cause Eviction legislation is Democratic Socialist state senator Julia Salazar, who openly champions the socialization of the housing market, even by force. Explaining the difference between a “progressive” and a “democratic socialist,” Salazar told Jacobin in 2018 that “a progressive might advocate for forcing landlords to do necessary repairs on buildings. But unless you advocate for universal rent control and frankly, eventually, the abolition of private property . . . what you’re actually doing is just kicking the can down the road.”
More recently, addressing a report that the 2019 reforms strengthening rent regulations in New York City—eliminating a “vacancy bump” allowance that let landlords rehab newly-vacant apartments and pass on part of the cost to new tenants—have resulted in as many as 60,000 apartments sitting idle because it would be uneconomic to renovate them, Salazar tweeted: “Expropriate them and allow community land trusts to acquire the properties to actually house people.”
Indeed, letting “community land trusts” or nonprofits take over the housing stock is the long game that New York’s leftist establishment is playing. New York City’s socialist comptroller Brad Lander has made no secret of his desire for public ownership of housing. In September 2020, at the nadir of the city’s fortunes, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times essentially praying for a collapse in property values, which would lead to mass defaults.
“Instead of letting distressed properties be auctioned off when owners default on mortgages and taxes, the city should step in,” Lander enthused. “We could acquire and hold these properties temporarily through a city-controlled land bank, based on legislation I’ve introduced, and then transfer them to a growing network of community land trusts, nonprofit entities that hold land in perpetuity for publicly beneficial uses.”
Putting the state’s rental property market, valued at probably several trillion dollars, under the same regime of rent regulation that has done nothing to ease New York City’s perpetual housing “emergency” in 75 years would be a disaster. It would force small landlords into foreclosure. It would do nothing to increase the state’s housing stock. It would not help people looking to rent an apartment. It would do one thing: empower New York’s socialist Left and the nonprofit institutional apparatus that supports it.
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