Drafted Law Addresses Unreasonable Rent Increases

With the majority of properties in New Paltz being rentals, fortifying tenant-landlord relationships has been prioritized. Photo Courtesy of The Daily Freeman

The New Paltz Village Board of Trustees has proposed a local law that would regulate unreasonable or unconscionable rental increases in the Village of New Paltz. The law takes form through a legal process providing tenants the right and opportunity to dispute such rent increases. 

The law was initially drafted in 2021 and was suggested to be revisited by Deputy Mayor Alexandria Wojcik in order to augment the New York State Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 that has been worked on by the Village Board of Trustees. During the latest meeting on Wed., Oct. 11, the law’s intent, operation and process of being put into effect were identified. 

Essentially, the draft “makes it possible to dispute unreasonable rent increases, thus protecting tenants who receive a ruling in their favor for the next year of their lease,” explained Deputy Mayor Wojcik. This would only pertain to lease renewal processes and works to protect tenants in their disputes of unreasonable or unconscionable increases. The draft of the local law pertains specifically to preserving “affordable rental options” as the Village Board recognizes that the majority of the Village of New Paltz’s housing population consists of renters.

Over 70% of residents in the Village of New Paltz are renters, with a high annual turnover rate per the U.S. Census. In an interview with The Oracle, Wojcik remarked that “laws protecting and spelling-out tenants’ rights and landlords’ responsibilities are especially important here because tenants are essentially a dime a dozen, so property owners have the upper hand here more so than elsewhere.” 

In order to do this, the draft proposes a prohibition on unreasonable or unconscionable rent increases. If a tenant believes a proposed rent increase is unreasonable and subsequently provides a written statement to the landlord detailing their reasons for believing that the proposed increase is unreasonable, the tenant may withhold payment of the difference between the prior rent rate and the increased rent rate. The tenant can only withhold payment once they obtain written confirmation of the landlord’s receipt of their written statement.

The drafted local law is comparable to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act, with considerable similarities but differing processes, as identified by Mayor Tim Rogers. The process of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act would involve a pointed entity with appointed individuals who would review what a reasonable rent increase could be based on “macro factors” that are similar to those included in the Unreasonable Rent Increase draft law. The difference is that the drafted law regarding rent increase would provide a sort of mechanism for situations involving individuals concerned that their rent increase was out-of-bounds. Renters would be able to challenge the increase through a new court process with more specific actions and aid toward those looking to refute rental increases. 

The draft law works to protect those who are unable to keep up with drastic increases in rent. Including but not limited to seniors, retired citizens, working individuals and students, the law would create a process for disputing unreasonable increases, as there is no standing process as of right now. Currently, the Landlord-Tenant Relations Council consists of volunteers offering advice and general aid to those experiencing rent increase issues but cannot offer legal aid in situations of drastic increases that tenants wish to dispute. 

“This law would put more of a process” at the local legal level that outlines the steps toward disputing a proposed rent increase, Wojcik explained in the Village Board of Trustees meeting. The draft states that its purpose “is to create a balance between maintaining an affordable rental stock in the Village while permitting landlords to conduct their businesses appropriately.”

Clarifying specifically no prioritized side in the relationship between renters and landlords in its intent, the law explains that its purpose is to create a systemic process for negotiating rent increases in non-rent stabilized buildings. “With this law, everyone will know what the process is, which means better landlord-tenant relations overall.”

The court is able to consider a number of factors when deeming a proposed rent increase unreasonable, including the macro factors addressed in the Emergency Tenant Protection Act, but is not limited to such. Factors include the landlord’s expenses associated with the operation of the property, capital improvements and rent prior to the proposed increase in accordance with market rate. “It takes into account all the different things in a really balanced way,” said Wojcik. 

Contesting an unreasonable rent increase is not grounds for eviction, as specifically stated in the drafted law. If a tenant were to go through a process and found themselves in a renewed lease, they are protected from facing an eviction for non-payment of the additional rent. The draft law thus bolsters the state laws against retaliation in a critical fashion, as the local protection of existing rental stock would be provided by the drafted law, since the state has failed to provide a method to do so. 

The Village Board, having proposed the draft, has already gone through legal checks and balances. The board has since moved toward setting a public hearing to review the draft at the next Village Board of Trustees meeting, on Wed., Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.

By scheduling a public hearing, the Village Board is looking for feedback from the public on the law. Since the law is a draft, there will be no action until feedback is received. This review is not limited to tenants, but also housing activists and landlords. “We want the community to understand how it is written, what it is trying to accomplish and how it could be used,” said Mayor Rogers. 

Laws such as the regulation of unreasonable or unconscionable rental increases are important as they are not necessary to be acted upon, but offer guidelines to both renters and landlords. Through them, “everyone involved feels empowered about a process” which offers an additional benefit adopting the law, Mayor Rogers argued. The law does not pertain to hard boundaries that then lead to tenants and landlords constantly going to court, but instead specifically providing guidelines that all parties can refer to. “The majority of tenants and the majority of landlords are looking for a peaceful agreement,” emphasized Mayor Rogers. The draft law does not look to create barriers, but foster communication. 

“In terms of landlord-tenant relations, the more guidelines we have, the better,” said Wojcik. Rights to go to court as well as a clearly articulated process for disputing rent increases provides different pathways and solutions for varying cases and relationships between renters and landlords in the village.