This is a letter to the editor from Sarah Curless of the Ithaca Tenants Union. To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Matt Butler at mbutler@ithacavoice.com.

You may have heard of the Right to Renew Leases bill that local tenants are fighting for this year through the Ithaca Tenants Union (ITU). If you have not, it does exactly what it sounds like: it gives tenants power in the lease renewal process, preventing us from being non-renewed and evicted as long as we pay rent and follow the terms of our lease.

That is, it did—until this past Friday. That’s when Alderwoman Cynthia Brock modified the bill tenants organized for with her own modified bill, a new law that removes tenants’ power in the lease renewal process by allowing landlords to unilaterally issue non-renewals, just as they already do today (The proposed changes and Brock’s rationale are available to read here). This new bill subverts the entire intention of the Right to Renew leases, and the Planning Committee should revert to the previous version.

The Ithaca Tenants Union is at the forefront of the movement to ratify the Right to Renew, which received support from some members of the Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) of the Ithaca Common Council. Tenants first organized to introduce the bill in July, and it took months of hard work. A Community Assembly was planned in July, and many tenants came out to share our non-renewal stories, set priorities, and refine the law together. Local news reported on the gathering, and the organizing even caught the attention of State Senator Julia Salazar.  

The City agreed to officially consider the bill in August, but the struggle was not over. Tenants fought to ensure that the sale of an apartment building would not be considered a reason to legally evict its inhabitants—as local news noted, this was the biggest priority agreed upon in July’s Assembly. In September, Ithaca’s Planning Committee published a draft of the bill that recognized this demand, to the joy of tenants who worked on it. 

And then, on October 15th, Ms. Brock’s bill replaced it. The Good Cause Eviction proposal she put forth reintroduces the building sale loophole that tenants struggled so hard to close. It also creates a new reason for eviction that doesn’t yet exist in state law: refusing entry to landlords who say they’re doing inspections. Many tenants have experienced this as a blanket excuse by landlords in order to enter units to surveil and harass us, and we would be powerless to refuse it if her bill were to pass. 

Worst of all, Ms. Brock’s bill lists a landlord’s decision not to renew as a reason for eviction, and forces tenants to give an answer on renewal just two months after moving in — something no poor person can do, and the unfortunate status quo in Ithaca currently. These changes negate the entire point of the Right to Renew Leases: giving tenants a proactive choice to remain in our homes, if we pay rent and follow our lease. They must be rejected. 

People interested in sharing thoughts on the bill and its process can write to council@cityofithaca.org, and can RSVP to speak during Public Comment at the next Planning Committee meeting at 6pm this Wednesday, October 20th.