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OpinionEditorial

'Good cause' rental legislation is wrong for Long Island

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Long Island has plenty of housing problems to solve. Chief among them, the region desperately needs affordable rental units and other multi-family housing stock.

What the region does not have, according to experts and local elected officials, is a widespread problem regarding landlords evicting tenants for no good reason.

Even so, Albany lawmakers are on the verge of trying to solve a problem the region doesn’t have, while making the problems we do have much worse.

The so-called “good cause” eviction bill — part of a package of nine mostly New York City-centric rent-law reforms being debated by the State Legislature — represents a far-reaching effort to protect tenants by preventing landlords from being able to evict them except in very specific, limited circumstances. It also would require landlords to limit rent increases to 1.5 times the rate of inflation. If rent rose by more than that amount, it would be considered “unconscionable,” according to the bill, — tenants could refuse to pay increases and remain in an apartment.

Perhaps this sounds like a good idea. Perhaps it makes sense for some other parts of the state.

But on Long Island, the bill could have a devastating impact. This is an example in which one size most certainly does not fit all.

For one thing, no one has been able to provide data that show “eviction without cause” is a significant or growing problem on Long Island. Local lawmakers say it isn’t an issue they hear about from constituents.

It’s already complicated, difficult and expensive to build reasonably priced rentals in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Add this law, and it could stop developers from even trying. Lenders might be more wary about financing projects, knowing that developers would be limited in how much they can raise rents. What’s more, developers who seek tax breaks often see the payments they make increase by far more than the rate of inflation — so they could end up taking losses. Pretty soon, they won’t bother trying to build.

And what about small builders and landlords? This legislation would apply even to a two-family home that’s not owner-occupied. It could prohibit a landlord from not renewing a lease because an extended family member needed the apartment or from increasing the rent to recoup an unexpected cost to the property.

Supporters of the bill say there’s space in the legislation for developers or landlords to head to court and explain that they think the “unconscionable” definition doesn’t apply. That provision does nothing to ease the concerns. The state should be making it easier for developers to build the housing Long Island needs, not harder.

The rent laws have become part of a political game, as Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo try to outmaneuver one another to appease tenant advocates. They should listen to Long Island’s six State Senate Democrats, who say they don’t support the “good cause” bill in its current form. Their collective will is critical to making sure this bill doesn’t move forward as is.

Among the remaining bills in the rent-law package is one that would extend rent regulations to other parts of the state. For similar reasons, Suffolk, which doesn’t have rent regulations now, shouldn’t be included. The other seven bills apply only to rent-regulated apartments. Most make sense and would help improve the state’s rent laws. But two bills would eliminate landlords’ ability to pass on renovation costs to their tenants. Legislators should consider reforming and tightening those regulations, rather than repealing them.

Protecting tenant rights is laudable and important to prevent bad landlords from abusing renters. But doing so without attention to unintended consequences is not. Keep the eviction bill out of the mix, or, if necessary, exempt Nassau and Suffolk counties from its provisions.

That bill may have “good cause,” but its effects will be only bad. — The editorial board

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