Op-Ed: Queens tenants need good cause protections

Collage Maker-17-Mar-2023-11-06-AM-4991
Catalina Cruz and Theo Oshiro

Every New Yorker deserves a safe, affordable place to live. No tenant should be worried about whether their landlord will evict them next month or if their rent will increase to an unconscionable amount without notice. But that’s precisely the reality facing too many Queens tenants and New Yorkers across the state.

Take the story of Gerardo Vital, a Corona resident who worked for years as a local travel guide, but was forced to sell tacos on the street when business dried up during the pandemic. Gerardo’s landlord recently tried to increase his rent by $450 a month, a more than 40% increase. Though Gerardo was able to convince his landlord to reduce the increase, it has been extremely difficult for him to pay the new monthly rent and he is currently two months behind on payment.

This latest rent increase has put Gerardo, his wife and three children at grave risk of being displaced from their home. Gerardo fears that, one day, he and his family will end up having to sleep in his car.

Sadly, we too often encounter cases like Gerardo’s. In New York state. there are nearly 1.6 million renter households who lack tenant protections and, of those, about 784,000 live in New York City.

Our state cannot continue to prioritize the demands of real estate developers while our people face a grave affordability crisis. We must place the needs of tenants first this legislative session, and we can best achieve this by passing good cause eviction legislation, which will ensure that everyone has the ability to remain in their homes.

This legislation would prohibit evictions unless a landlord proves good cause, such as failure to pay rent, and require landlords to justify rent increases greater than 3%, or 1.5 times, the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher. It would be a critical tool to protect tenants by keeping them in their homes and stop unjustified and exorbitant rent increases.

The housing crisis has been the hardest on our neighbors of color and immigrants like Gerardo, who are fighting a daily battle to survive gentrification and displacement. Because of his tenuous relationship with his landlord, Gerardo has refrained from asking him for repairs like a basic coat of paint or fixing his ceiling, which has been falling apart for the last several years. Without any protections to ensure a fair lease renewal, Gerardo fears his landlord will retaliate by further increasing the rent or asking him to leave the apartment without even having to give him a reason. For Gerardo and his wife, this is the worst case scenario: they could end up on the street.

This type of story is all too common for New York tenants, especially for those who have spent decades advocating for legal protections. In 2019, following decades of organizing, the New York State legislature passed landmark changes to the rent laws, strengthening protections for rent-stabilized apartments. While this legislation was historic, much work remains. Millions of New Yorkers, like many of our neighbors in Assembly District 39 in Queens, do not benefit from rent stabilization.

Currently in Assembly District 39, 60% of tenants pay more than 30 percent of their income as rent, and 32 percent of tenants pay more than 50 percent of their income as rent. This district alone has approximately 15,000 unregulated apartments where tenants lack true protections. All too often, a single rent hike puts families at risk of being displaced from their homes, and, in some cases, put out on the street.

We must take the necessary steps forward so that all tenants are able to defend themselves against eviction and unreasonable increases. Good cause will help to prevent these evictions and keep people in stable housing for the betterment of their families, their neighborhoods and the entire state.

As displacement and the homelessness crisis continues to rage through our neighborhoods, the state Legislature must do everything it can to pass good cause eviction legislation. We must act without delay.

Catalina Cruz represents District 39 in the state Assembly. Theo Oshiro is the co-executive director of Make the Road New York.