While Ithaca Common Council awaits AG opinion on ‘good cause eviction,’ residents urge action

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“Good cause eviction” would require landlords to prove they have a fair reason to not renew a tenant’s lease in court. Ithaca’s council members have been debating it since September. (Megan Zerez/WSKG)

BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG)—New York’s Attorney General has yet to issue an opinion on whether cities like Ithaca can pass their own “good cause” eviction laws.

Efforts to pass the tenants’ rights legislation have slowed over the last several weeks while council members await Attorney General Letitia James’ response.

Good cause eviction would require landlords to prove they have a fair reason to not renew a tenant’s lease in court. Ithaca Common Council members have been debating the bill, also known as “right to renew”, since September.

City Attorney Ari Lavine, has voiced concerns that the state will overrule the bill if passed over issues of jurisdiction, also known as preemption. Although evictions play out in city courts, they fall under state law.

“Amongst practicing municipal attorneys in New York State, there’s a strong degree of concern around the preemption question,” Lavine told Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development committee Wednesday. “So it seems really important to get that weigh-in from the AG’s office.”

The Hudson Valley City of Beacon asked for James’ opinion last fall. James’ office did not respond to WSKG’s questions.

While cities have continued to wait, the general counsel for New York’s Conference of Mayors, Wade Beltramo, issued his opinion. Beltramo said eviction laws have been ruled exclusively a “state concern” in the past.

But, he added, there wasn’t any court case that directly addresses “good cause” evictions.

“In examining the legality of such restrictions, a review of case law did not reveal any court decisions directly on point,” Beltramo wrote in a letter to Beacon’s mayor. “Nor are there any New York State agency opinions that address good cause eviction.”

Ithaca resident Theresa Alt said that even if the state later invalidates it, passing the local legislation would put the city and tenants in an advantageous position.

“Then you are poised to demand swift state legislative action,” Alt said during public comment on Wednesday.

Alt and other residents frustrations with the council and its decision to stall the local version of the bill while residents continued to be evicted in city court.

“Suppose the state declares that cities have the right—only then will you start the endless haggling over this important legislation?” Alt asked. “While no-cause evictions continue through the winter?”

Evictions have increased since the statewide moratorium expired last month. A backlog of cases from earlier in the pandemic has remained.

Advocates have continued to push for good cause eviction statewide. The bill is in committees of both chambers of the legislature.