ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For months, housing advocates have been fighting for ‘Good Cause Eviction’ to become law in our area. Tuesday night, it had its chance in city council and it was shot down in a 6-3 vote.

This law would essentially give tenants the right to renew their lease while protecting them against an unfair eviction.

According to the City-Wide Tenant Union, Rochester currently has more than 3,000 open eviction cases impacting close to 7,000 residents.

‘Good Cause’ is a piece of legislation that would have helped Oscar Brewer, a Rochester man who said he is facing eviction because the county won’t pay his rent because his landlord won’t perform a led wipe on the property.

“The counties reached out to property management and said leave this guy and his family alone. If you do the work, get the CFO, get the codes up, we’ll pay the rent. So, if ‘Good Cause’ would have passed last night? Yeah, that would have done a lot,” Brewer said, “My children deserve to have a decent house just like anybody else’s child.”

Rochester city councilmember Jose Peo said the law never had a chance in the first place.

“It’s like cutting off the arm and putting a Band-Aid on it, it would not have fixed the actual underlying issues,” Peo said.

Councilmember Peo was one of the six members who voted ‘no’ last night, arguing other measures need to be put in place rather than a law he said “didn’t make sense.”

“We need to enforce the code as it is written that would keep the slumlords at bay, we would hold them accountable to giving us, giving our citizens safe and quality housing,” Peo said. “The other problem was the pricing. If the housing prices are too high, than the demand is high, and the supply is low, basic economics, this did not fix that issue.”

Councilmember Mary Lupien was once of the three members who voted ‘yes’ and said the law is meant to protect tenants from being forced out of their home for reasons like asking their landlord to keep housing conditions up to par.

“It’s really unbelievable. It sometimes looks like people are in third world countries and it stays that way because tenants are afraid to stand up for themselves because they could be evicted. Staying in a terrible living situation is better than no living situation. Unfortunately, that’s the choice many of our tenants have to make right now,” Lupien said.

Landlords have expressed their concerns with the proposal becoming law saying it would prevent them from evicting bad tenants. Lupien says that’s not the case.

“There are existing paths to evict those who are creating a nuisance, who are violating the lease, who are not paying. All this does is give people a defense in court, if they are responsible tenants who are paying the rent,” Lupien said.

Councilmember Lupien said she is continuing to push the legislation forward on the local level. Councilmember Peo said it’s time to move on and for the city start hiring more code enforcers so landlords can’t get away with evicting tenants in attempt to hide complaints.

City councilmember Lashay Harris provided this statement on why he voted ‘no’:

“I have serious concerns about housing in my district as well as the city at large. It has become a complex issue exacerbated by COVID-19.  I polled my constituents including the neighborhood associations in my district. It was clear there was enough opposition to Int. No. 94. The City’s Housing Task Force has not finalized their findings therefore I believe there is much we can consider before adding more laws to the books we cannot enforce.” I have ideas that I will be submitting them to the task force and encourage the residents of my district to do the same. We should be able to get a resolution together with more people who are representation of our entire community by way of the task force.”

The City Wide Tenants Union released the following statement in response to city council’s decision:

Tonight the City of Rochester had the opportunity to stop hundreds of evictions over the next month, thousands of evictions over the next year, and tens of thousands of evictions over the next decade. ALL people deserve safe and stable housing, and the Eviction Reduction Law would have ended slumlord-based evictions for countless Rochester families.

Instead, six councilmembers chose to vote to protect the status quo of slum conditions and mass evictions; there have already been over 950 eviction hearings since the moratorium expired in January, and nearly 40% of those hearings were for properties lacking valid Certificates of Occupancy. Council President Miguel Melendez and Councilmembers Michael Patterson, Willie Lightfoot, Mitch Gruber, and LaShay Harris are effectively co-signing each no-cause, No C of O Eviction in the months to come. They must accept responsibility for these evictions as well as the consequences of those evictions: the research is clear, evictions contribute to crises in violence, education, and public health.

The opponents of the bill intentionally rushed the vote in order to suppress public input for a popular, commonsense measure. 2/3 of Rochester residents are renters, and the Eviction Reduction Law has strong public support: 64% of all likely voters and 77% of Democrats support Good Cause. Instead of voting with their constituents, six City Councilmembers voted with majority white landlords that don’t even live in our city.

Despite 5 cities already passing Good Cause in the last 8 months (and New Jersey having it for almost 50 years) the City came out with a radical legal memo arguing that tenant protections are unconstitutional, challenging a 75 year legal precedent.  Their argument was that tenant protections like good cause are against the contracts and due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.  If true, this would undermine 75 years of labor protections (e.g. minimum wage), tenant protections (e.g. good cause), and homeowner protections (e.g. foreclosure protections).  While landlords frequently bring lawsuits with these arguments, they are quickly dismissed. Just in New York State multiple lawsuits on these arguments have been tossed out recently. Multiple attorneys testified the weakness of the city’s arguments at the Thursday Eviction Reduction Law hearing. 

The City-Wide Tenant Union will continue to fight to make housing a human right in Rochester and ensure that these policies are passed locally, across the state, and across the country.