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Tenants call for ‘good cause’ legislation in NYC’s eviction epicenter

Vivian Smith said she’s dreading her March 1st date in Bronx housing court, where she’ll make another effort to stave off an impending eviction.

The 71-year-old has lived in her Morris Avenue apartment with her 81-year-old husband for nearly three decades. But last year their landlord refused to renew the lease and served them with eviction papers shortly after.

“Where we going?” she asked, speaking at a rally with other tenants and advocates Wednesday morning outside a Bronx apartment complex where advocates say similar issues are afoot. The area has the most evictions of anywhere in New York City.

“Never late with rent, never cause trouble. We just want to stay there and finish whatever time we got left,” Smith said.

She, along with other advocates and renters Wednesday, called for the passage of legislation known as the “good cause” eviction bill, as a potential remedy for what she and other tenants are currently facing. Advocates have been ramping up pressure on state elected officials to pass the 2019 bill, following the lapse of the state’s eviction moratorium in mid-January.

Smith is one of many tenants in nearby buildings owned or previously owned by Glacier Equities, a private investment company that purchased unsold shares in several cooperative buildings across the Bronx in 2020. Longtime subletters like her had been told they’d have to purchase their apartments or leave their homes of decades, with little legal recourse.

Glacier Equities spokesperson Rachel Brill said the company was, “proud to be offering new homeownership opportunities for Bronx residents that aren’t in pricey new towers; but in revitalized cooperatives.” Brill said the company offered to help set the Smiths up with a real estate broker and pay for moving expenses after the couple tried but didn’t qualify for a mortgage for their longtime apartment. Brill confirmed they’d filed eviction proceedings against the Smith when they’d stopped returning the company’s phone calls and emails last fall.

“A lot of people just panicked, got up and left,” said Carmen Acevedo, 73, a tenant of another building in Glacier Equities’ portfolio where a similar situation was playing out. She said she got a letter from the company a few weeks ago telling her to leave by March. “I didn’t sign no forms and that’s when they sent the eviction notice.”

The “good cause” bill would guarantee tenants in market-rate housing the right to a lease renewal if they pay rent on time and aren’t otherwise out of compliance with their rental agreement. The legislation also gives tenants the right to fight evictions if they’re based on rent hikes of 3 percent or more a year. The legislation faces ardent opposition from landlords, who’ve promised to wage “war” against the bill’s passage, arguing landlords will have less incentive to maintain housing stock.

“Good cause eviction would be a disaster for tenants, property owners and New York’s already volatile housing market,” said Ross Wallenstein a spokesperson for the newly-formed landlord Homeowners for an Affordable New York, a coalition of landlord groups who’ve joined together to fight the bill’s passage. “If it is passed, it will dramatically increase rents on vacant apartments, making them unaffordable to the average New Yorker.”

The West Bronx, where Smith lives and where Wednesday’s rally took place, is ground zero for eviction filings in New York City. The cluster of West Bronx zip codes have the highest eviction rates of any neighborhood in the city, with more than 50 evictions per every 1,000 units, according to a 2021 report from the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development.

“We have legislation in the state that would stop all this,” said City Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, who led Wednesday’s rally. She was joined by Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and Comptroller Brad Lander, among other elected officials. “You don’t just get kicked out just cause somebody wants to make millions from your home.”

Evictions are still far below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Eviction Lab, though that number was on the rise in recent weeks — 1,200 new evictions were filed in New York housing courts between February 6 and February 13. The bill has been a priority for many Democrats in Albany, but State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said she doubts the legislation will pass as written and Gov. Kathy Hochul has declined to detail her position on the bill.

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