Emergency Protection for Ithaca Renters and Small Landlords

Largely written by the Ithaca Tenants Union and modified by me, the mayor, and Alderperson Smith to ease its passage, I sponsored this legislation to request that New York State give us the power to cancel rents and prevent evictions and financial ruin.

Status: Passed June 3, 2020

WHEREAS the City of Ithaca has demonstrated its desire and commitment to be a leader in housing justice and social equity by recently passing resolutions creating:

  • An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 146 of the City of Ithaca Municipal Code entitled “Building Code Enforcement”, §146-9 entitled “Identification and Notification”
  • An Ordinance to Amend Chapter 258 of the City of Ithaca Municipal Code entitled “Rental Housing”, to add Article III entitled “Displaced Tenants”

and

WHEREAS the City of Ithaca has a significant tenant population; and

WHEREAS all residents of the City of Ithaca have the right to a stable, safe and affordable place to live; and

WHEREAS the rate of rent burden, defined as paying 30% or more of household income for rent, was already above 70% in Ithaca before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to 2018 Census data; and

WHEREAS the COVID-19 pandemic has now caused thousands of Ithaca residents to lose their jobs, rendering many incapable of paying rent; and

WHEREAS, on March 7, 2020, Governor Cuomo of New York State issued Executive Order Number 202, declaring a Statewide disaster emergency for the entire State of New York; and

WHEREAS the City of Ithaca deems itself morally obligated to protect its most disadvantaged residents from bearing the brunt of the economic risk from the COVID-19 pandemic; and

WHEREAS increased eviction rates in the City of Ithaca will undermine the realization of the Ithaca Green New Deal’s goal of achieving “a carbon neutral city by 2030,” by inciting rent burdened individuals to seek housing in cheaper areas further from the City, increasing urban sprawl and our dependence on single-use cars for commuting to work and commercial or recreational areas in the City; and

WHEREAS Governor Cuomo’s May 7, 2020 Executive Order Number 202.28 partially bars evictions through August 20, 2020, but does not prevent evictions over “just-cause” non-economic infractions, nor does it prevent the filing of any eviction proceedings or lawsuits after August 20, 2020, over alleged lease infractions that occurred during a COVID-19 eviction moratorium; and

WHEREAS the COVID-19 moratoriums established in the Governor’s Executive Orders 202 and 202.28 do not protect residential or small business tenants from the non-renewal of leases, or rent hikes during and following a moratorium; and

WHEREAS the State of New York has not yet acted to pass NY State Senate Bill S8125A, which would “act to suspend rent payments for certain residential tenants and small business commercial tenants and to suspend certain mortgage payments for ninety days in response to the outbreak of coronavirus”; and

WHEREAS the State of New York has not yet acted to pass NY State Senate Bill S2892B, “The Good Cause Eviction Bill,” which would, according §213, prohibit “landlords from taking any action to evict, fail to renew a lease, or otherwise seek to remove a tenant from housing accommodation except for good cause”; and

WHEREAS undocumented persons, the unemployed, and other vulnerable populations do not have access to the stimulus and unemployment benefits provided by the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act; and

WHEREAS City of Ithaca Code §48-1 and §48-8 authorizes through the proceedings for Emergency Preparedness procedures for “rendering assistance to citizens within the City of Ithaca in the event of a disaster or emergency which exceeds the dimensions of any individual City Department’s current mandate for response,” such as in the case of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Common Council requests that the New York State Department of Health authorize  the Mayor to forgive via executive order three months of all residential and small-business rent payments and additional fees which are due through June 2020, and, for leases started on or after April 1st 2020, to forgive all rent payments and additional fees due through June 2020
, as determined by the payment schedule outlined in the original lease; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Common Council requests that the New York State Department of Health authorize  the Mayor to prohibit the eviction of residential and small-business tenants by executive order through June 2020; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the City of Ithaca calls upon renters who remain financially stable during the COVID-19 pandemic to maintain timely payment of rent; and be it further

RESOLVED, That Common Council requests that the New York State Department of Health authorize the Mayor to obligate landlords to offer  renters lease extensions at the current rate of rent during the duration of the declaration of emergency; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the City of Ithaca shall deliver the below letter to the Governor of New York State and the State Department of Health, to notify them of the City’s intentions to act;

“To Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Health:
We, the City of Ithaca, write to formally request the State Department of Health’s review of our City’s attached resolution to forgive the rent obligations of our residents, as well as the approval of our Mayor’s ability to invoke the resolution’s provisions immediately, per Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.5. 
We cannot overstate the distress felt by our residents over the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ithaca is especially vulnerable to these effects: our economy relies nearly entirely on now-suspended higher education and Finger Lakes summer tourism, which are built on the backs of our robust service industry — where we have more restaurants per capita than any other city in the New York State. With consumers now in lockdown or largely outside the region for the foreseeable future, many of these businesses are now temporarily or permanently closed. Our working class is experiencing its highest rate of unemployment in nearly 100 years.
On April 1, 2020, the City of Ithaca’s Common Council unanimously passed a resolution requesting that rent and mortgage relief be instituted by the State government. Now, months later, with no such legislation having passed despite multiple bills being drafted, it is our position that State and Federal measures have been insufficient to protect tenants. Over two-thirds of Ithaca’s tenants were rent burdened before a single COVID-19 case appeared in New York. Now, countless more face excruciating uncertainty surrounding their ability to remain housed and financially stable once the unconditional eviction moratorium expires in just two weeks.
We understand it’s complicated — but respectfully, and especially considering our federal administration, the fallout of this economic crisis cannot wait patiently for deliberations over stimulus package options. Neither can our most vulnerable residents: many do not have access to unemployment benefits, and those who do have struggled to receive them.
In light of these acute pains and the absence of comprehensive State or Federal action, we declare our intent to use our own legislation to protect renters. We again request, with increased urgency, that the State of New York not only relieve rent in the rest of its municipalities, but that it also use its State powers to ease the distinct burdens of homeowners and small landlords, including mortgage payments — something no city can do on its own. 
The State does have the power to stop our emergency relief measure — but it also holds the sole power to complete it, by extending relief to homeowners and small landlords experiencing their own pressing and growing burdens.
In an era defined by necessary shelter-in-place orders, we implore the State of New York to prioritize the necessity, and defend the sanctuary, of the home.
Sincerely,The City of Ithaca”