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Newburgh, N.Y., Judge Strikes Down ‘Good-Cause’ Eviction Law

The law, which capped rent increases and laid out terms by which certain landlords could evict tenants, was enacted by the City Council last year in an attempt to enact eviction protections to prevent homelessness.

(TNS) — A judge has struck down Newburgh's local law prohibiting evictions under certain circumstances.

A group of landlords filed suit against Newburgh, N.Y., its city court, and the mayor for passing the law, known as 'good-cause eviction,' in February. The suit was filed within months after the city became the second in the state to pass such a measure. Albany was the first municipality in New York to pass such legislation, in July 2021.

Albany's law was also struck down over the summer after a group of landlords sued, though it was later reinstated while the city's appeal plays out. Landlords in the Newburgh and Albany lawsuits have been represented by Troy-based lawyer Benjamin Neidl of the law firm E.Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy.

The suit against Newburgh was filed by a number of landlords whose identities are obscured by LLCs, plus Michael Acevedo, a controversial landlord and president of the Orange County Landlord Association. The three LLCs named in the suit are HYH Newburgh, M&N Newburgh Development and 160 Grand Owners.

The decision signed by Orange County Supreme Court Justice Sandra B. Sciortino on Tuesday said the sections of Newburgh's law that set conditions by which landlords could evict a tenant and what constitutes "good cause" in those cases are in "direct conflict with state law and thereby preempted."

Neidl applauded the decision in a statement he sent to the Times Union on Wednesday:

"Over the years, the state Legislature has balanced the respective rights of tenants and landlords in the state statutes. ( Newburgh's law) was an irresponsible effort to upend that balance and nullify the landlords' state law rights inside the city of Newburgh. The court's decision today will restore that balance for the plaintiffs and other Newburgh residential landlords."

Newburgh's law capped rent increases at 5 percent and laid out terms by which certain landlords could evict tenants. Evictions could have still happened under certain circumstances, such as if renters violated a term of their lease or if they used the property to commit a crime.

An extensive housing study led by the Leviticus Fund in partnership with consultant Kevin Dwarka and Pace Land Use Law Center recommended Newburgh enact eviction protections to prevent homelessness, which is what the city claimed it was trying to do when it passed the law last year.

"Strengthening and expanding eviction prevention programs, including adopting a "just cause" eviction law was identified as an action item to reduce incidents of eviction leading to homelessness," the ordinance from the Oct. 25, 2021 City Council meeting read. "The primary purpose of this Article is to implement a policy recommendation of the City of Newburgh Housing Needs Assessment and Newburgh Housing Report intended to protect tenants from exorbitant and predatory rent increases that could result in a significant increase in homelessness in the city of Newburgh."

Mike Neppl, the city of Newburgh chief of staff, said Wednesday: "We are disappointed with the decision and the City Council will review its options with its attorneys."

Right now, 70 percent of nearly 30,000 people living in Newburgh are renters. Census data from last year indicate there were nearly 7,000 tenant households in the city of roughly 30,000 people.

Activists and renters rallied outside Newburgh City Hall in September to drum up support for the city's good-cause law during the litigation. At that rally, Jason Mays, deputy director of the Hudson Valley Justice Center, said the center has opened 137 cases since May in Newburgh where it is offering free legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction.

"We haven't even been able to assign attorneys to all the cases," he said at the rally, which was hosted by local activist nonprofit For the Many.

For the Many has been pushing for tenant protection laws on the state and local levels. Aside from its good-cause eviction advocacy in the state Legislature and locally in Newburgh, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Beacon and other Hudson Valley municipalities, the group was part of the successful push for Kingston to opt into the state's Emergency Tenant Protection Act. Kingston's rent guidelines board established under that law enacted a 15 percent rent reduction for units under its jurisdiction. The rent reduction was temporarily blocked this month by a judge.

On Wednesday, For the Many denounced the decisions in the suits against Newburgh's good-cause law and the rent reduction measure in Kingston.

"Both lawsuits were brought by landlords seeking to continue inflicting unjust evictions and outrageous rent increases. If judges won't allow cities to protect their tenants, Governor Hochul and the state legislature must pass good-cause protections statewide," For the Many's Communications Lead Aaron Narraph Fernando said in a statement.

" The Hudson Valley is in a housing crisis. That's why cities like Kingston and Newburgh have enacted strong tenant protections, like rent stabilization and good cause. But in the last week and a half, judges have completely upended these laws, which were both passed with overwhelming support from their city councils and mayors. Their fight for tenant protections must now continue in the state legislature."

(c)2022 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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