Tenants give 30-day notice to landlord-tied lawmakers in Albany
Under a grey, lightly drizzling sky, tenants held up colorful banners and homemade placards representing tenant associations, community groups, labor unions, and political organizations. | Desiree Joy Frias

NEW YORK – Last Tuesday, just 30 days before the rent laws here expire, tenants, organized by the Housing Justice for All campaign, rolled into the state capital at Albany to deliver 30-day eviction notices to their elected officials.

They came in on 34 buses from all around the state — from Williamsburg and Crown Heights in Brooklyn all the way up to Buffalo; from Woodside and Jamaica, Queens, to Hempstead, Long Island. and from Rochester to the Bronx. Kingston, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie in the Hudson.

Under a grey, light drizzling they held up colorful banners and homemade placards representing tenant associations, community groups, labor unions, and political organizations. They chanted and sang in four languages:

“Oh the rent, Oh the rent, Oh, the rent is too damn high…”

“El Pueblo Unido, Jamás Será Vencido!”

Landlord and developer gangs like the [anti-]Rent Stabilization Association (RSA) and Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) have spent decades buying up politicians and shredding the rent laws. Armed with giant loopholes in the law, they’ve cooked up all kinds of schemes for driving up rents and kicking people out of their homes.

For example: There is the Major Capital Improvements (MCIs) scam, and Individual Apartment Improvements (IAIs). Landlords will make some kind of investment into their own building, inflate the costs through a shell construction company they control, then pass on the made-up costs to tenants, and make extra profits off it again with a permanent rent hike.

Housing Justice for All campaign has a nine-bill platform for #UniversalRentControl to close the loopholes, and five other measures to “end homelessness in New York State.” New York’s Metropolitan Council on Housing and many other groups are part of the coalition.

One of their bills receiving particularly significant opposition from landlords and their representatives in government is the “Good Cause” eviction bill, which would make it illegal for landlords to evict tenants unless they have actually violated some term of their lease. It would protect more than five million tenants around the state who can currently be evicted by their landlords on nothing more than a whim.

The tenant movement in New York is demanding their elected officials immediately support and pass all nine bills for #UniversalRentControl, or risk losing their jobs.

This is no empty threat: in the last primary election, tenants kicked out 6 of the 8 previous members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) — Democrats who were teaming up with Republicans in the State Senate to block a vote on bills covering everything from tenant rights to voting rights to women’s rights to environmental protection. IDC members were some of real-estate’s strongest backers.

Fifty-one Democrats in the Assembly and 21 in the Senate support at least six bills, (which would be like getting a 67% on your math test — barely passing!), but tenants need full, 100% support. Half of all tenants in NYC already pay a third of their income to landlords. One-third are coughing up 50% of their income. Gentrification and homelessness is a plague from Brooklyn to Buffalo to Rochester, emptying out entire neighborhoods, contributing to police violence and murder with crackdowns on so-called quality-of-life crimes.

NYC residents who cannot afford to live where they work, or who cannot find work anywhere near where they live, spend hours commuting on the crumbling subway system. On each and every ride, they are confronted with multiple cases of the homelessness crisis, with desperate people asking for help, often with traumatic signs of clearly visible health emergencies.

Desiree Joy Frias, a member of the Bronx/Upper Manhattan Branch of Democratic Socialists of America, came to represent her family. Her grandmother lives in Morrisania Air Rights, an NYCHA senior citizen building in the South Bronx that often loses heat, hot water, and elevator access, trapping disabled seniors in their apartments in the 20-story building.

Activists with Housing Justice for All create a banner to present to elected officials who have supported the campaign’s full platform. | Cameron Orr/PW

“I’ve lived my whole life — 25 years — without a single day of housing security. I grew up in one of the worst slumlord buildings in New York City. Eviction still hovers over us every day. We have to fight for basic rights: heat, hot water, pest control — even as our landlord takes more than half of our paychecks every single month. I refuse to raise my children like this, or to let my neighbors continue to live this way.”

Among the big targets of the tenants are Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Corey Johnson, speaker of the NYC Council, also held a press conference in support of the tenants’ demands.

The tenant action ranked high on the list of militant actions taken by tenants over the years in Albany.  “Tenants flooded the third floor of the capital,” Andrea Shapiro of Met Council said, “leading to an impromptu march across the fourth floor to get around the Capitol police, who were locking the senate chamber. They took over the staircase and hall outside of the Senate. The crowd outside of the chambers was an important reminder to all legislators that New York is a renters’ state.”


Cameron Orr
Cameron Orr

Cameron Orr is a musician and writer living in Jersey City, New Jersey.