Carla Johnson has been evicted from nine apartments in the past four years. All she did, she says, was complain about things like a gas leak, mold or a missing security gate.
“It’s cheaper for the landlord to put you out and move someone else in that doesn’t know about the problem,” she says.
She lives in Newburgh, N.Y., a former industrial town on the Hudson River about two hours north of Manhattan. She says most apartment owners in Newburgh do the bare minimum to maintain a unit, and if tenants complain, they get evicted.
But new tenant protections may be on the way.
After Democrats took control of the state Senate in 2018, New York passed sweeping new rent laws that closed loopholes, cemented rent control permanently into law and extended the laws beyond just New York City.
Now cities such as Buffalo and Rochester, after meeting certain conditions, can declare a housing emergency and opt in to the new rules. Johnson says places like Newburgh need these basic protections.
“There’s people living in mold. There’s people being locked out. There’s people being evicted.”
Some housing advocates have said they have goosebumps at the idea of launching campaigns all across the state to get local towns to adopt the new rules.
“The right to make sure repairs are done, or at least having the comfort to make a complaint,” says Juanita Lewis, who is an organizer for an advocacy group called Community Voices Heard.
Lewis says basic protections — like the right to a lease and advance notice of rent increases — can be extended to new places.
“Whereas right now, Newburgh doesn’t have any of those things.”
But as New York joins Oregon in trying to solve the housing affordability issue, landlords say the laws will shrink the market of affordable housing.
“The trend is spreading to not just the coasts, but more and more states. Colorado had a bill introduced this session,” says Alex Rossello, policy analyst for the National Apartment Association, which represents landlords. “I would predict that Washington will be the next place where we’ll see this type of policy introduced.”
Rossello — and many economists — argue that these laws do the opposite of what proponents want and actually make housing less affordable by reducing the supply.
That’s what some landlords in Newburgh, like Michael Acevedo, predict will happen. “You go into business to make money, right? I don’t do it for my health. I do it to pay my bills,” Acevedo says.
“It’s time to go,” says Acevedo, who is president of the Orange County Landlord Association. “How am I going to survive?”
He blames tenants, not landlords, for the poor quality of Newburgh’s apartments.
“Tenants kept wrecking it. I kept going in and fixing it. Finally, the mortgage and taxes were more money than I can rent it for.”
And studies do suggest that closing the loopholes only helps wealthy renters. Overall, the research says rent laws tend to shrink the number of regulated apartments, as landlords convert units to condos, pay tenants to leave or don’t build any new housing.
One analysis done in San Francisco found the number of rent-controlled units had dropped by 25% and the total supply of apartments decreased by 5%, increasing prices by 5%.
Even though much of the research shows rent control doesn’t help most tenants in the long run, advocates say at least current tenants are protected. As tenant advocates work to spread these new protections across the state, a coalition of landlord groups is likely to lobby cities to not adopt the new rules.