Tenants’ Stories

We (the Syracuse Tenants Organizing for Power! Coalition) have canvassed more than 1,500 homes in Syracuse to talk with folks about their housing concerns. Here are some of their stories and how Good Cause Eviction legislation would have helped them in their unique situations:

Michelle, Third District (represented by Councilor Majok)

The heat and electricity in Michelle’s home were not working, so she withheld the utilities portion of her rent to pressure her landlord to fix those issues. Instead of performing maintenance on the home, however, Michelle’s landlord filed an eviction, claiming she owed $270.
Meanwhile, Michelle called Code Enforcement to document the roach infestation in the home, the leaky roof, problems with the electricity, plumbing, and other concerns. Syracuse Code Enforcement cited numerous violations and discovered the house wasn’t on the rental registry.
Michelle says she plans to move out by the end of February. “You can’t sleep in your own bed,” she said, explaining that she’s seen roaches on her sheets. “I’ve been looking and trying to find a new place. It’s just so hard right now.”

Good Cause Eviction would have:
Prevented Michelle’s landlord from evicting her as long as there were open code violations. This would have made Michelle’s tactic of withholding rent more effective, as her landlord could not choose to kick her out, but would instead be incentivized to repair the property.

Tony, Fourth District (represented by Councilor Allen)

Tony is the leader of a tenants’ association at McCarthy Manor, which is owned by Related Companies. Following his organizing efforts to pressure management to fix problems in the building — including a broken front door, lack of security, roach infestations, black mold, fire hazards, sudden unexplained rent increases, limited access to hot water and more — management reported Tony to the police for no reason and then cited those instances as evidence that Tony was a “nuisance” and sent him an eviction notice. Luckily, Tony had access to an attorney who quickly resolved the problem. Had Tony not had access to legal counsel, however, he likely would have been evicted simply for organizing with his neighbors to demand safer living conditions.

Good Cause Eviction would have:
Protected Tony from a retaliatory eviction by requiring that the landlord prove “good cause” in order to file an eviction. In this case, there was no good cause because there was no proof that Tony was a nuisance in any way.

Kerryann, Second District (represented by Councilor Hogan)

Kerryann has lived in her Tipp Hill home for 9 years, but in the fall of 2021, her landlord unexpectedly asked her to leave and sent her a 90-day notice claiming he wanted to completely remodel the home and get more rent from someone else. Meanwhile, Kerryann has dealt with numerous problems with the property, including an unusable kitchen sink that drips water into her downstairs neighbors’ home, as well as a hazardous balcony that’s pulling away from the side of the house (see photos). She is still struggling to find an affordable place to live for her family. Although she successfully worked with a housing attorney to challenge the first eviction notice she received, Kerryann recently got a second eviction notice, which claimed she failed to report that her fiance lives with her, even though he’s been there for 9 years without a problem.

Good Cause Eviction would have:
Allowed Kerryann to remain in her home, since a landlord’s renovation plans would not constitute a ‘good cause’ to force her out.

Sharon, Fourth District (represented by Councilor Allen)

A couple years ago, the home Sharon was renting had a severe bed bug problem, in addition to plumbing failures, broken windows and rat feces in the stove. When she told her landlord that she planned to call Code Enforcement to document the problems, her landlord began refusing her rent payments and sent an eviction notice shortly after that. In court, even though Sharon successfully proved that her landlord had been refusing her rent payments and that she had saved all the rent money and had it available, the judge still ordered Sharon to leave the property within 60 days.

Good Cause Eviction would have:
Prevented Sharon’s landlord from evicting her out of retaliation and while the property had open code violations.

Additionally, Sharon’s case is an excellent example of why tenants need legal counsel — we need to pass Right to Counsel in New York in addition to Good Cause Eviction legislation.

Stephanie, Third District (represented by Councilor Majok)

In 2021, after a fire in her previous home, Stephanie was relocated by her landlord to a new property. She’s dealt with a host of problems at this new residence — including the leaky attic and exposed wires pictured — and Code Enforcement recently cited 16 violations there. Still, Stephanie’s landlord refuses to fix anything, so Stephanie has begun withholding her rent to pressure them to act. Her landlord claims that he plans to sell the property and that she’ll have to get out by a certain date; he has also sent a fake eviction notice to Stephanie and asked for her house key. She refused.

Good Cause Eviction would have:
Prevented Stephanie’s landlord from filing an eviction (or threatening to evict) as long as the property had open code violations.

Carla, Fourth District (represented by Councilor Allen)

Carla’s landlord — InFisium Properties LLC — increased her rent by 22.7% in 2021 while refusing to respond to requests to fix many issues with her home. Carla’s children have suffered from exposure to lead as well as black mold in the home caused by dripping water from a plumbing failure. Code Enforcement has been unable to force the landlord to fix the maintenance issues — many of which Carla claims could be resolved without spending much time or money. Following advice from her lawyer, Carla began withholding rent to pressure her landlord to fix the problems with her apartment. However, her landlord responded by refusing to renew her lease, claiming she owed rent. Despite the terrible conditions she’s dealing with, Carla was told by some maintenance workers that InFisium’s other properties in Syracuse are in much worse shape.

Good Cause Eviction would have:
Given Carla the opportunity to renew the lease and stay in her home, since the property has open codes violations and nonpayment of a rent increase over 5% in one year is not considered “good cause.”

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