Ithaca Passes Groundbreaking Tenant Protection Law, Sets New Standards for Housing Stability

ITHACA, N.Y. — The Ithaca Common Council recently approved a new tenant protection law with an 8-2 vote after nearly five hours of robust discussion. This addition to the local legislation strengthens housing stability and landlord-tenant relationships, marking a considerable shift in the city’s approach to housing fairness.

Mayor Robert Cantelmo, a proponent of the law, described the council’s decision as a major win for the entire community. “This historic legislation will not only secure housing fairness but will positively influence the socioeconomic dynamics of Ithaca,” Cantelmo stated. He shared the sentiment in a guest column co-authored with Assemblymember Anna Kelles, emphasizing the gravity of the housing crisis and the importance of local actions in mitigating its impacts.

The newly passed law resembles the Good Cause Eviction Law enacted by New York State, aiming to regulate eviction processes more stringently. Under this legislation, landlords are required to show good cause for evicting tenants or deciding not to renew leases. This essentially grants tenants the right to renew their leases, thereby increasing their housing security.

Some of the valid reasons for eviction under this new framework include non-payment of reasonable rent increments, substantial lease violations, utilization of the property for illegal activities, or the landlord’s need to reclaim the property for personal use.

The local version, unlike the state law which exempts landlords with up to ten rental units, only exempts those owning a singular unit, potentially increasing the scope of its impact. This alignment with policies in Albany, Kingston, and Poughkeepside has sparked discussions about the effects on small-scale landlords.

At the state level, the law is an option for cities outside New York City, which was immediately subject to the legislature enacted in April. Cities are permitted either to adopt it as is or modify it to better fit their local contexts.

During the council meeting, Alderperson Margaret Fabrizio proposed delaying the enactment to allow more community input and to reconsider the definition of a small landlord as owning up to ten units. However, both motions were declined, leading to final dissenting votes from Fabrizio and Council member David Shapiro.

The Ithaca Tenants Union has praised the passage of the law, noting its potential to rectify high-rent scenarios where two-bedroom apartments surpass $5,740 monthly, thus exempting them from the state law. They highlighted issues tenants face, like retaliation through lease non-renewal upon requesting essential repairs, underscoring the necessity of such legislative protections.

Landlords, however, express concerns about the sudden proposal of the local law, feeling caught off guard by the developments. Anita Graf, a local landlord, expressed her dismay at the meeting, emphasizing the lack of sufficient communication and consideration for the impact on small property owners.

The law will remain effective until June 15, 2034, offering a long-term framework for the Ithaca housing market unless subsequent actions are taken for its renewal or modification.

By protecting tenants from unfair evictions and uncontrolled rent hikes, this law is a strategic step towards stabilizing the local housing market, ensuring that residents can secure their homes without the looming threat of abrupt displacement.