Rochester residents calling for lease reform, eviction protections

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Local tenants are calling to make housing in Rochester more affordable. 

The city of Rochester is one of the top 10 cities in the U.S. that has seen the highest increase of rent.

Now, local tenant unions are pushing for five reforms to be passed to help protect families across the city. 

“The city of Rochester, pre-pandemic, saw 8,000 evictions filed each year, which is 6 times the nationwide average. One out of every 4 renters in Rochester moves each year, so that’s really destabilizing our community,” Ritti Singh, of Rochester’s City-Wide Tenants Union said.

With the eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of August, local tenants unions are calling city officials to pass a number of reforms to help keep thousands of residents in their homes. 

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A big part of the reforms is a bill called the Good Cause Eviction Protections which essentially says landlords need to show there is “good cause” to evict tenants.

“Good cause would create a system where landlords have to show there’s a good cause for an eviction, that could include non-payment, breaking the lease, causing a nuisance,” Singh said.

Albany became the first city in the state to pass the Good Cause law this week. Now Rochester’s City-Wide Tenant Union and other housing advocates are calling on the city to do the same. 

Experts say 1 in 4 tenants move each year in the city and more than1,200 tenants a year face holdover evictions — which are evictions for reasons other than not paying rent.

The Good Cause Eviction Protections would protect tenants facing these holdover evictions — by giving tenants the right to renew their tenancy, enhance their right to organize and speak up about their conditions— while also providing protections against large rent hikes.

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“It’s very important because it gives tenants the opportunity to have a voice and speak truth to power, without the fear that you are going to be targeted, retaliated against,” Clianda Florence-Yarde, a tenant in Rochester said.

Florence-Yarde is a mother of three who was evicted and arrested from her home last December. She said she didn’t pay rent because her landlord wouldn’t fix issues in her house. Florence-Yarde ended up being homeless for 6 months and the Good Cause bill would have helped. 

“It would have again continued the relationship I had with the Tenant Union and the guidance I was receiving, it would have afforded the opportunity for the tenants union to come alongside with me to the table,” Florence-Yarde said. “Everybody could have been at the table, everybody’s voices could have been heard and we could have come up with a tangible plan, a timely plan, to make sure that everybody was able to have their say.”

Florence-Yarde said the Good Cause law would also create a chance for the community to know there are resources there for those who need them.

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Under this law, landlords could still evict tenants for nonpayment, violating their lease or committing a nuisance. 

The City Wide Tenants Union says the reforms they are pushing for would go a long way in bettering the city as a whole. 

“The City of Rochester has been in a crisis when it comes to education, violence, instability, housing is the foundation for a healthy community,” Singh said. “When we have stable housing, we have strong relationships, we have strong families, that’s only going to increase the vibrancy and the health and safety of the people here.”

The City-Wide Tenant Union is also pushing for Rochester to take up four other reforms: (posted on the group’s Facebook page)

  1. Opting in to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act: which would allow for rent stabilization and enhanced eviction and maintenance protections for around 30,000 residents.
  2. Banning evictions from properties without certificates of occupancy: requiring a C of O to evict would give the landlords more of an incentive to make repairs.
  3. Enact the Rochester Tenant Right to Counsel Law: passing a local ordinance permanently guaranteeing every tenant a right to counsel in eviction and habitability cases.
  4. Opting out of the 485-A luxury housing tax breaks: keep the city from giving large developers millions of dollars to build luxury market rate housing through the 485-a tax break, which can drive up rent costs.

The City Wide Tenants Union hopes it gets passed within the next six months. They say many City Council members have already expressed support. 

Currently, New Jersey and the City of Baltimore already have Good Cause Eviction Protections. Cities like Buffalo, Syracuse and Ithaca are considering doing the same.