ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca Tenants Union took its latest legislative push public on Saturday, July 31, with a rally and information session outside of Ithaca City Hall trying to formulate a right to renew bill.

About 30 people gathered to discuss strategy to get the bill placed on the city agenda and, perhaps, passed, theorizing that since 70 percent of the city’s residents are renters that the vast majority of people locally would favor the law.

The basic theme of right to renew is that upon signing a lease, a tenant is automatically granted the right to renew their lease for that unit if they want to, and additionally which would require landlords to show good cause. It’s aimed at preventing evictions based on retaliation, a tenant’s demands for repairs, etc.

The bulk of the ideas being kicked around were fairly nuanced, with a lot of discussion surrounding the amount of time before a lease renewal can be discussed between landlord and tenant. Groups were formed to speak about the ideas, with several people mentioning that they want to see stronger protections for tenants—particularly arguing that one element of right to renew legislation should be that people cannot be evicted from their units for non-violent drug activity.

The session was a bit short on concrete ideas, though those will likely become more clear if the discussion is taken up by Ithaca officials, though it is still very unclear if the legislation has any legs at the city level. One clear goal of the event was to determine what issues local renters would be comfortable relenting on and which they felt were crucial to be included in potential legislation, one of which was that lease terms should carry over regardless of building ownership changes.

Additionally, groups suggested that any rent increases should be tied to nationwide inflation. Rally-goers posited that inflation normally only goes up by a small percentage each year, with some outliers, and that this would hopefully control rent hikes that could lead to pricing people out of their housing—a form of soft evictions.

According to the ITU, landlord harassment and threats of eviction are the two most common complaints they hear through their help-line from tenants—both of which could theoretically be addressed, at least in part, by right to renew legislation. Saturday’s event mostly served as a format for renters to gather and mull different ideas for the legislation, which the ITU is pushing the Planning and Economic Development Committee or Common Council to consider. Most notably, (presumed) future Common Council member Phoebe Brown was in attendance, maintaining the link between ITU and the Solidarity Slate candidates.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com