The New Paltz Village Board is considering adopting a new law that will amend Chapter 129 of the Village Housing Standards Code.
According to the draft, the purpose of this law is to amend regulations in the Village code that deal with the process by which landlords renting properties within the village return the security deposits of their tenants. This law would ensure that landlords are not improperly withholding deposits, and “to provide a mechanism for the tenant’s recovery of same.”
Village board member KT Tobin noted that the law has been modeled after a law that already exists in Ithaca akin to it. Ithaca local government has set a precedent for harsher penalties for landlords than what exists at the state level of renting policy.
Ithaca chose to stick with the 30 day time period that the state has set originally for landlords to return deposits, but New Paltz is looking to shorten that grace period to 14 days. Should the landlord wrongfully fail to deliver the security deposit without an itemized statement detailing the reasoning for the deposit retention, the landlord is liable for payment to the tenant at increasing rates as the weeks go on. The current language of Section C of the drafted law explains that if the landlord fails to return the deposit within the sixth calendar week of the original due date, the landlord must pay the tenant 150 percent of the original deposit. However, according to Tobin, there will be significant revisions to Section C and Section D.
“We’re not in a rush to get this out,” Tobin said. “We are going to do what we need to do to make this as effective as possible.”
Eight landlords who own property in New Paltz attended the public hearing on Wednesday, giving input from their side of the law. Some explained that this law may cause them to raise rent and lower security deposits. Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers spoke against this.
“It’s important to understand what this law is trying to do,” Rogers said. “This law is simply trying to put very identifiable boundaries around when the security deposit is returned or reasons for not getting returned.”
Rogers shared that, after leaving his first apartment, his security deposit was withheld by the landlord without reason for a long period of time before he finally received it.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about the direction the village board appears to be going in,” said Celeste Tesoriero, attorney at the New Paltz Tenant Union.“This board has the power to change the lives of renters in their community for the better — it remains to be seen if they will use that power.”
Tesoriero described the current law as “unprecedented in its cruelty to low income renters.” Tesoriero found issues with the language of the law that states the landlord penalties only apply if a landlord doesn’t claim a renter broke the lease. According to Tesoriero, in the cases she has seen, the landlord always claims it.
The law is under construction, according to Tobin, and will have important changes to its language and some of the provisions. The board will be holding another public hearing for tenants and landlords on Oct. 11 at Village Hall to encourage more pragmatic dialogue.