By Sateesh Nori
An eviction can come suddenly, without warning, like a heart attack.
For the Jones family, a middle-class family in Jamaica, eviction came after 13 years of paying their rent on time, 13 years of fixing-up their building for their landlord, 13 years of kids in local schools, 13 years of parents receiving local medical care, 13 years of attending a local temple, and 13 years of being a part of the community.
Or take the Russos, a family of four from Corona. This husband, wife, and two children with special needs have lived in their apartment for 11 years.
The young Russo kids attended local schools for kids with developmental disabilities. Mr. and Mrs. Russo, both tax-paying U.S. citizens, earn a total of $40,000 per year. Recently, their landlord decided not to renew their lease and to evict them.
Within the next few months, both the Jones and the Russo families will either find other affordable apartments, or they will each become homeless.
Neither family will ever be able to replace their family homes. Both families must bid farewell to their friends, neighbors and their communities. Unfortunately for thousands of families like the Jones and Russos, New York City currently allows landlords of certain types of apartments to evict anyone, at any time, and for no reason.
In other words, New York City does not require “good cause” for eviction for many types of apartments.
If a tenant’s lease has expired, and if their apartment is located in a building with less than six-units, a landlord can evict them at any time and without cause. There is nothing in the current law to protect such tenants from this housing nightmare.
The Legal Aid Society, where I work as an attorney, represents thousands of similar families in Housing Court each year. But like a doctor without a cure for a disease, we cannot win these cases — we can only delay the inevitable eviction and displacement that these families face.
Fortunately, a legislative solution for this problem is on the horizon in Albany.
The “Good Cause Eviction” bill (SB2892/AB5030) protects low-income tenants by requiring landlords to prove to a judge that their eviction case against a tenant is for “good cause.”
The proposed legislation also protects tenants from unconscionable rent increases, which are rent increases of more than 1.5 times the annual percentage change in the consumer price index.
This proposed law would apply to all apartments except those in owner-occupied buildings with less than four units. While this law could be stronger, it is a starting point for a framework of tenant protections outside of the existing rent regulatory system.
If this bill passes, tenants in 163,000 additional units across Queens would be afforded basic protections.
For Legal Aid lawyers on the front lines of the City’s housing crisis, these protections will help even the playing field in court, reducing the number of eviction proceedings brought against low-income tenants, and empowering them with many of the legal defenses that tenants in rent-regulated apartments already enjoy.
We should put people before profits, and treat housing as a human right, not a commodity. Let’s call on our elected officials to take the first step forward.
Sateesh Nori is attorney-in-charge of the Queens Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society.