The E. Stewart Jones Hacker Murphy LLP firm represented a coalition of Albany landlords in the case of Pusatere v. City of Albany, et. al., venued initially in New York State Supreme Court, Albany County, and subsequently appealed to the Appellate Division, Third Department. The firm prevailed in striking down the City of Albany’s so-called “good cause” eviction law in a June 2022 summary judgment decision from NYS Supreme Court Justice Christina L. Ryba. At the conclusion of a hotly contested appeal which the firm argued in January 2023, the Appellate Division issued a Decision & Opinion on Thursday, March 2, 2023 unanimously affirming the victory.
The local law in controversy—which Albany labeled the “good cause” eviction law—significantly curtailed the State law rights of Albany residential landlords. State law expressly allows virtually all New York landlords to evict tenants for refusing to move out after the expiration of the lease, or failing to pay the agreed-upon rent, except for certain properties that fall within the “rent control” or “rent stabilization” programs (which are mostly downstate). The Albany local law, however, purported to eliminate those grounds for eviction for Albany landlords in Albany City Court. The law provided that Albany residential landlords could no longer evict a tenant for holding over after expiration of the lease but, instead, must offer the tenant a renewal lease that does not “substantially alter” the terms of the original lease. The local law offered only a handful of exceptions (which the law called “good causes”) which would allow the landlord to non-renew a lease, such as criminal activity by the tenant, the tenant’s creation of chronic loud noises, odors, garbage or similar nuisances, or in some instances, the landlord’s need to move into a unit himself/herself and certain other limited circumstances. The local law also established a presumption at law that any residential rent increase of 5% or more in a year is “unconscionable” and therefore, uncollectible—therefore, a tenant’s failure to pay rent after such a rent increase was, under the local law, presumptively not a basis for evicting the tenant.
The firm argued that the Albany local law was barred by the preemption doctrine because of its conflicts with New York State law. Under foundational principles in the New York State Constitution, local laws which prohibit or curtail what is expressly allowed by State law are deemed illegal and void. Like the trial court before it, the unanimous Appellate Division agreed on all fronts, holding that the local law’s limitations on lease non-renewals and the 5% rent restriction violated landlords’ State law rights, and declared the entire “good cause eviction law” to be null and void.