Ithaca council members are considering how renewal restrictions hurt renters

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Apartments and housing construction alongside Six Mile Creek in Ithaca. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—The City of Ithaca has been looking at new requirements for lease renewals. The proposed measure is intended to give renters more time before they must decide whether to stay in their home.

Ithaca’s current city code requires landlords to give tenants at least 60 days before advertising the unit or renewing the lease, but those 60 days can be waived in the lease agreement.

Ithaca Alderperson Patrick Mehler said that waiver puts a lot of pressure on renters.

“Because they’re concerned that they’re told, ‘We’ve already waived your right to wait 60 days. We’ve waived your right to even wait at all. And if you don’t agree now, we’re going to give it to somebody else,'” Mehler said.

Mehler, also a Cornell University student, said renters—and particularly student renters—who hear this often renew their leases a full year in advance, which doesn’t give them much time to get to know their landlord, see what their neighbors are like or if the house is well-insulated.

The measure Mehler proposed would take away the option to waive the 60-day wait period, as well as lengthen it. Mehler originally proposed a 180-day requirement, although last week, he suggested it be reduced to 120 days.

“Whether it’s, the current 60-day, 90-day, 120, 180—whatever it is—I think all those are a small comfort unless tenants living and operating in a tight rental market are not under that pressure to waive something to have their application be competitive,” said Alderperson Robert Cantelmo.

Council members have not landed on an exact number, but several said they wanted to ensure landlords have enough time to advertise and turn over units, while also giving tenants time to occupy before making a decision on renewal.

The Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee held a public hearing on the measure on Jan. 19. Ithaca Tenants’ Union member Genevieve Rand said she supported its intent, but didn’t think the bill was strong enough to aid tenants.

“You can’t really functionally uphold it if people can then just be denied a lease renewal for absolutely no reason,” she said.

Rand suggested the measure would work better as part of “Good Cause” eviction legislation, which would require landlords to have a just cause in order to evict tenants or not renew their lease.

Housing advocates in Ithaca and statewide have been pushing for “Good Cause.” Multiple residents cited it during the public hearing last week.

The Common Council committee had reviewed multiple drafts of the legislation before tabling it in December, saying they wanted to wait until a legal opinion is issued by state officials.

Landlords who wrote to the council opposed the lease renewal measure, stating it would hurt their businesses and workflow.

Focusing on the student rental market, landlords said they feared the measure could condense the time in which students commonly sign leases. They added some students prefer to have their housing confirmed a year ahead for peace of mind.

Another public hearing will be held in February.