Ithaca landlords must now give renters 120 days before renewing leases

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Council members say the provision passed Wednesday gives tenants more time to decide if they want to renew their lease before a landlord can show their home to other renters. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

VESTAL, NY (WSKG)—Landlords in Ithaca must now provide renters written notice at least 120 days before they either renew their lease or advertise to new renters.

Ithaca’s Common Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve the change, which will take effect on May 31 and apply to all leases that are nine months or longer.

The provision increases the time tenants have to decide if they want to renew their lease before a landlord can show their home to other renters. City code previously allowed landlords to begin the rental renewal process 60 days after giving tenants written notice, with the option to waive that waiting period.

Alderperson Patrick Mehler authored the measure. When discussing it in January, he explained that renters often do not have enough time to evaluate their living situation before they face pressure to renew.

Mehler, an undergraduate at Cornell University, said that was especially true of college students who rent throughout the city.

While landlords and tenants can agree to waive the new provision from their rental agreement, the decision to do so must be explicitly written, bolded and initialed on the lease’s first page.

Mehler said Wednesday that this specification was intended to help renters better understand their rights and ability to negotiate the rental renewal process.

“The intent of this specific ordinance is to have that language centered,” Mehler added.

An initial draft of the measure removed the waiver from city code entirely. Mehler said it was added back to ensure the resolution did not violate constitutional law that prohibits municipal ordinances that interfere with contract rights.

Several landlords voiced concerns about the provision during its development. They said their businesses would suffer if the Council shortened the time they had to show apartments to prospective renters.

Mehler said the Council will work with landlords as the revised ordinance is implemented and begin educational outreach to renters. Discussion of the resolution centered on how to best inform college students, who make up a large portion of the city’s renter population.

Alderperson Rob Gearhart said because of that, the city’s universities should also play a role in educating students on the provision.

“We should ensure that we leverage our partnerships there and make sure they do their part in informing their communities about this, so it doesn’t always seem to want to fall solely on the city’s shoulders,” Gearhart said.

When asked about how the measure will be enforced, City Attorney Ari Levine said any conflict between landlords and tenants over adherence to the ordinance can be addressed in the city’s housing court.