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Tenant advocates urge state leaders to pass Good Cause Eviction law

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He’s called the mayor of Benkard.

Liebert Galloway, better known to his friends as Lee, had lived in his Benkard Street apartment in Newburgh for the last 20 years.

“We get along like one family,” Galloway said. “I never walk on the street without somebody calling to me.”

Sitting out on his front stoop, willing to talk to anyone and everyone, he was a staple there. But now he lives in a hotel, blocks away. He’s already had to switch rooms because he found blood on one of the blankets.

His former apartment was recently purchased by New York City-based developer Thaer Abuqare and his company, Imperium Construction. The address even has its own Instagram page, laying out plans for remodeling.

Lee said his lease was allowed to expire and he wasn’t offered a new one, leaving him in the hotel while he looks for a new place. State law doesn’t mandate new landlords to offer a renewal lease to existing tenants.

Abuqare said that notice was given a year and a half in advance of the remodels, which couldn’t happen while people lived there.

“I said that I would assist him in if he would like to move his stuff,” Abuqare said. “Only because the building itself has structural issues and the renovation can’t be done with anybody in it, because the main structure has to be, I’m a structural engineer, the main structure itself has to be fixed.”

An eviction moratorium in New York greatly decreased the number of evictions between March 2020 and the beginning of 2022. According to data from New York Courts, there were nearly 194,000 evictions in 2022, up from 69,000 the year prior. Before the pandemic, the state saw more than 260,000 evictions in 2019.

Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office said it’s committed to expanding the state’s Tenant Protection Unit and increasing funds for legal services to prevent evictions.

Brahvan Ranga, political director of grassroots advocacy group For The Many, said more needs to be done, namely, passing a statewide Good Cause Eviction law.

“Local leaders have stood up for tenants’ rights, and now those laws are being challenged,” Ranga said. “So now it’s up to the state Legislature to take action and pass this law. It would protect tenants from arbitrary evictions, protect them from predatory rent hikes and just give them that sense of security in their homes that they can live without fear.”

Ryan McCall, an attorney with Tully Rinckey who often represents landlords in housing disputes, said a Good Cause law would create good protections for tenants, but some considerations for landlords need to be put in place.

“It becomes difficult for landlords who have tenants that are longtime problems, meaning that they pay their rent but there’s constantly issues,” McCall said. “Whether it’s a noise, complaints, things of that nature.”

Lee will spend the next few days, maybe a week at the hotel while looking for permanent housing. He said more help is needed for people facing eviction.

“Suffering bad with this sky-high rent,” Galloway said. “Now, the landlord kicked me out, I can’t go to my building. Imagine that rent being jacked up when they finish remodeling it.”

The governor’s office also said the state has provided more than $2.8 billion in relief to more than 225,000 tenants through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

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