Tenants’ rights get a boost with reform of state law

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–New York lawmakers passed, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed, a set of reforms to state laws, earlier this year, that are having a major impact on landlord-tenant transactions.

Tenants are now using new leverage in their skirmishes with irresponsible or unresponsive landlords now that they have been empowered by the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 that some observers say is a “game changer.”

“I think this is big legislation, especially for tenants and low-income tenants throughout Western New York,” said Katelyn Neidermier an attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services who defends low income tenants fighting eviction in Buffalo Housing Court.

Among the more important changes, Neidermier believes, is the end of court-ordered three-day eviction notices.

“That instead of having to pack up everything they own and be evicted in three days, that the shortest amount of time they could possibly be evicted in is 14 days.”

Long-term tenants now get much more time to relocate, especially if there is a change of ownership, up to 90 days, and experts say a judge can grant a renter up to a year to find a new residence that is comparable.

“We’ve had tenants who have lived in apartments or houses for 15 years be evicted with 30 days’ notice,” Neidermier said, “and it is all memories. It is children’s documents, it is your important documents, and it is just all the physical things that make a home that can be absolutely lost.”

While some advocates feel the new tenant protection law is simply leveling the playing field, others believe the pendulum may have swung too far against the property owners.

 Jim Lawson, the owner Real Property Management of Greater Buffalo showed us the aftermath of a tenant that it took months to remove from his apartment, “I think this would be what we consider the ‘tenant from hell’.”

Despite dozens of calls to the police and Child Protection Services, the property owner had to take the tenant to court to have him evicted. All the while, Lawson said, the tenant was trashing the place.

In some cases like this, Lawson said landlords feel they are powerless to protect their property, “When you handcuff a landlord which a process that would have taken a three-day notice turned into a 14-day notice, then turned into a two-month eviction, there’s things that don’t work in the system sometimes.”

In Buffalo’s hot real estate market, which is attracting many out-of-town buyers—even international investors and investment groups–consumer watchdogs say tenants need new protections, and will now get more time in court to defend themselves

Buffalo attorney Loran Bommer pursues tenant evictions on behalf of landlords in housing court. Bommer said the new tenant protection law severely restricts a landlord’s ability to screen prospective tenants by asking about prior evictions, which he said be problematic.

“It used to be a standard question on a rental application, ‘Have you ever been evicted, yes or no?’ If the answer came in ‘no I have not,’ and it turns out it is not a true statement, the landlord had recourse. Now you can’t even ask that question.”

Bommer says the new reforms just mean landlords have to up their game, “I think it is going to take another year for the industry to really know whether this is a real boon for Buffalo, or whether this is causing people to sell their properties and saying ‘I’m done, I can’t do this.’”

Katelyn Neidermier said the new tenant protection law is helping to level the playing field for renters, “We are learning as we go, but we find it generally favorable.”

Tenant activists did come up short with one specific factor they really wanted, the “good cause” provision. It would allow a tenant to live at a residence as long as they want.  A landlord could only force them to move for good cause.

The New York State Senate is offering a summary of what the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 could mean to you. You can read the article by clicking here.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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