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The Real Estate Industry Protects Its Right To Evict

Jun 3, 2022 Julia Rock
Awash in real estate industry cash, New York’s Democratic-controlled legislature avoided any real action this session to address the housing crisis.
good cause eviction bill
A 2021 eviction protest in New York City. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Evictions are soaring across the country as rents and home prices skyrocket and pandemic rental assistance dries up. The housing crisis has become particularly acute in New York: Evictions are on the rise statewide, and New York City rents have increased by over a third in the past year and are by far the most expensive among major cities.

Yet the Democrats who control New York’s state government just concluded their legislative session without passing a popular good cause eviction bill that would have prevented landlords from kicking out tenants just to drastically raise rents. The legislative defeat came in the wake of the real estate industry pouring millions into Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign coffers, and lobbying hard to protect its right to jack up rents and evict tenants.

Hochul has received more than $5 million in real estate cash since 2021, according to a review of campaign finance records by The Lever. Meanwhile, a landlord front group spent at least $930,000 on an advertising and advocacy campaign opposing the good cause eviction bill.

“Hochul’s policies have been designed to exacerbate, not alleviate the housing crisis,” New York Working Families Party spokesman Ravi Mangla told The Lever. “The only explanation for opposing such common sense legislation is that Hochul is awash in cash from the real estate industry.”

The real estate industry’s fight for its right to evict people — which landlords often use to jack up rents — isn’t just a New York story. At the federal level, industry groups spent millions of dollars lobbying for the end of the eviction moratorium put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As mayors take the blame for rising rents and evictions, housing organizers emphasize that the crisis must be addressed at the state level. “Without this bill, New Yorkers will have no tools to fight some of the most insane price gouging I’ve seen in over a decade of doing this work,” said Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator at Housing Justice For All, a grassroots advocacy group. “People will lose their homes. People will move out of the state.”

Hochul’s office did not return a request for comment.

Parroting Industry Talking Points

New York’s good cause eviction legislation would have prevented landlords from ending a tenant’s lease for any reason other than the tenant violating the terms of the rental agreement. The bill also would have prevented landlords from raising rents by more than 3 percent or 1.5 times the rate of inflation, unless the landlords showed their costs had gone up by more than that amount or they had made improvements to the units.

In practice, the protections would have ensured that the 1.6 million New York renters covered by the law — about half of renters statewide — could stay in their homes without facing exorbitant and unjustified rent hikes. States including California, New Jersey, and Oregon have such protections, as do multiple cities in New York.

A poll by Honan Strategy Group, commissioned by the publication City and State, found that 69 percent of New Yorkers supported the good cause eviction legislation. A separate poll by the progressive research organization Data for Progress similarly found that two thirds of New Yorkers supported the measure.

Meanwhile, tenant organizers have been working for years in New York to elect politicians to the state legislature who decline real estate campaign cash. In 2019, a group of these lawmakers elected to the legislature successfully passed a slate of tenant protection measures. Good cause eviction was part of the proposed legislative package at the time, but didn’t pass.

Organizers backing the good cause eviction bill told The Lever that in interactions with Hochul’s office and Senate and Assembly leadership, the administration parroted industry talking points.

“I like to say that for every landlord that calls a legislators office, we have to send in at least 10 to 15 renters to clean up the misinformation and lies that the real estate industry spreads about our bill,” said Weaver.

Real estate interests have argued that the legislation would discourage new construction, because developers would worry about covering their costs if they didn’t have the power to evict tenants and jack up prices.

The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the industry’s top lobbying group, has led the opposition to good cause. REBNY is also a member of a landlord/developer front group, Homeowners for an Affordable New York, which ran an advocacy campaign against the bill.

A policy brief by the advocacy group Community Service Society argued that the good cause eviction bill would not change the calculus that developers use when deciding whether to build.

“The good cause eviction regulations proposed for New York State are modeled after the protections New Jersey has had for almost 50 years, which do not exempt new buildings,” the brief says. “Throughout that time, New Jersey has outpaced New York State in new housing construction relative to its population.”

And yet, in discussions about whether the bill would slow new construction, Weaver said advocates faced a wall. “Hochul and her team believe it because REBNY said it,” she said “If REBNY said it, it must be true.”

Filling Hochul’s War Chest

REBNY and real estate interests, meanwhile, have been pouring money into Hochul’s war chest. Hochul has raised more than $30 million since becoming governor last August, and has been massively outspending her primary opponents.

In New York, money wields an exceptional amount of political influence, because the state’s campaign contribution limit is one of the highest in the country. Currently, the individual contribution limit is a whopping $69,700.

Of the $13.6 million that Hochul has received in high-value donations exceeding $25,000 since she became governor, at least $4.8 million came from real estate interests, according to The Lever’s analysis. That includes maximum donations of $69,700 from 27 separate individual donors in the real estate industry. Hochul also received donations from real estate moguls who had donated to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

While neither the assembly nor the state senate ended up voting on the good cause bill this session, organizers said they expected it would have passed with Hochul’s support.

The governor, who is expected to win the primary later this month — has also opposed other popular housing legislation. She allowed the state eviction moratorium to expire in January, and opposed a popular budget proposal to provide vouchers for subsidized housing for people experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.


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