Eviction Legislation Gains Steam

An update on the nationwide debate over moratoriums and good cause evictions.

Image by Ian Hutchinson via Unsplash

As the new year kicked off, the fate of eviction moratoriums in major cities across the U.S. have come under the spotlight. With many bans expiring, officials are weighing whether to extend or adopt new legislation, leading to a showdown between renter and landlord groups.

And in states like New York and California, advocacy groups are pushing lawmakers to pass bills that would make it more difficult to evict renters.

In New York, the former epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, a statewide eviction moratorium expired on Jan. 15. As the date neared, groups representing renters pushed heavily for a good cause eviction law, which they say is a crucial step in combating New York’s housing crisis and keeping residents from becoming homeless. Groups representing the rental apartment industry say the bill would impose rent control over the entire market and would lead to a poorer quality of housing over time.

Under the proposed legislation, renters would have the right to a lease renewal in most cases, rent increases would be capped for existing renters, and landlords would be prevented from evicting renters without an order from a judge, even in cases where the lease has ended or there was never a lease agreement.

READ ALSO: Multifamily Market Polarized by Renter Incomes

Alexander Lycoyannis, an attorney with New York-based law firm Rosenberg & Estis, P.C., represents several owners of rental properties in New York City. He said his clients worry that passing good cause eviction legislation would “prohibit” the ability to make necessary upgrades to their properties and keep up with the rising costs of upkeep, especially during a time of high inflation.

“When you add it all up, you have a real concern to be able to recoup investments or necessary maintenance costs, and the fact that the occupants will have all the rights of ownership with none of the obligations,” Lycoyannis said. “The statute essentially turns property ownership on its head.”

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), one of the largest real estate trade groups in New York, wrote in a testimony to the New York Senate last month that the proposed legislation “fails to provide the solutions that New Yorkers need” and urged the Senate to instead consider enacting a statewide right to counsel program, expanding voucher programs, and to consider regulatory relief.

Growing numbers

Good cause eviction legislation has been gaining momentum in recent months, especially in New York state. Since last summer, four upstate cities have passed good cause eviction laws, including Albany, Poughkeepsie and Newburgh. Meanwhile, smaller towns like New Paltz, Kingston, and Hudson are also considering passing similar bills.

These kinds of ordinances are not new. In 2019, Oregon passed laws limiting no-cause evictions and capping annual rent increases. The same year, Philadelphia enacted good cause eviction aimed at protecting low-income renters. And in New Jersey, a law has been in effect since 1974 requiring landlords to prove they have just cause to evict renters. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing affordable housing crisis in the U.S., which has led many organizations to look for solutions.

“If nothing is done, and after the eviction moratorium eventually expires, it is only a matter of months before New York grapples with an unprecedented eviction crisis,” the nonprofit group Housing Justice for All wrote in an open letter to New York Governor Kathy Hochul last fall.

Legal challenges

On the West Coast, the City of Los Angeles extended its eviction moratorium this month until Dec. 31, 2022. The news came shortly after a group of Los Angeles landlords challenging the eviction moratorium sought to bring their challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA) filed a legal challenge to the moratorium in 2020 but lost their appeal. However, the challenge was supported by several industry and legal groups, including the New Civil Liberties Alliance, the California Apartment Association, and the California Association of Realtors, many of which filed amicus briefs in support of the case.

After appealing its case late last year, the U.S. Supreme Court request a response in the case from the City of Los Angeles in early January, meaning that the legal challenge still has a chance to be heard in the nation’s top court, according to the AAGLA.

The group’s challenge argues that the moratorium is an illegal intervention, focusing its argument on the U.S. Constitution’s Contract Clause. A decision on whether the Supreme Court will hear the case will likely not come until March, according to The Real Deal.

“From the very beginning, the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles has stated that it will fight its case ‘out’ until the very end,” the group wrote in a release Jan. 14.

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