1. Home
  2. policy
  3. economy
  4. news
  5. I dodged a 15% rent increase because of a new NYC housing protection law. Here's how to know if it could save you money.

I dodged a 15% rent increase because of a new NYC housing protection law. Here's how to know if it could save you money.

Juliana Kaplan   

I dodged a 15% rent increase because of a new NYC housing protection law. Here's how to know if it could save you money.
  • My landlord tried to raise my rent by 15%, so I wrote an impassioned email.
  • A rent increase of that size is illegal for some buildings in NYC due to the new Good Cause Eviction law.

It was lease renewal season in New York City, and I was crying in Central Park.

My landlord had just emailed me that my rent was rising by 15%. I had been bracing myself for an increase — my neighbors told me they had seen hikes of around 6% — but this proposal was untenable. Of course, my situation wasn't unique; plenty of New Yorkers find themselves priced out of their apartments every year. Some never return.

I called my best friend to tell him the news. His response: "How can that be legal?"

The answer, it turns out, is that it no longer was legal. After an impassioned email — and a week of waiting — my landlord reversed course. They said my building was covered under the new Good Cause Eviction law, and my rent increase would instead be 8%.

Of course, that is still a lot. But it is certainly cheaper than moving and was at least workable with my budget. As a New York City renter, I was shocked to learn that there was a law protecting me. New York City real estate is like the Wild West if it were incredibly overpriced, somehow even scarier, and full of sad little closets.

"In our current housing market, landlords have an immense amount of power over our lives," Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator of Housing Justice for All — a coalition that coordinated the campaign for Good Cause — told me.

But Good Cause Eviction marks something that feels increasingly rare in today's rental landscape, where units are scarce and pricing feels like a free-for-all: Some protection for renters. While the law has its own caveats, its impact might be felt immediately for many New Yorkers — especially as summer rental season looms.

"We have been fighting for good cause because we think it's really critical that landlords should have a good reason to raise the rent — and a good reason to push you out of your home," Weaver said.

What is Good Cause Eviction?

According to Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society who represents tenants, good cause eviction is meant to solve two key problems facing New York renters: large and unpredictable rent spikes and evictions.

As Davidson told me, the law doesn't necessarily stop either of those practices but instead requires landlords to give reasons for them. In the case of an eviction, landlords need to have good cause — such as you haven't been paying rent, or their family member wants to move into the unit.

Good Cause also has what's called the reasonable rent increase measure: Buildings covered under Good Cause have limits on how much landlords can raise rent. A reasonable increase is now either 5% plus the rate of overall inflation, or 10% — whichever comes out to be lower. That's why my 15% increase was now off the table with CPI hovering around 3.4%.

How to know if your unit is protected under Good Cause

Like many aspects of the New York City renting experience, Good Cause Eviction isn't completely straightforward. Not every building or unit is covered under the legislation.

"There's a little bit of a maze when it comes to figuring out if good cause applies to you," Allia Mohamed, co-founder and CEO of leasing and landlord review platform openigloo, told me.

For instance, buildings built after 2009 are exempt, as are ones where the landlord owns fewer than 10 units. If your apartment is rent-stabilized, it's also not covered. Co-ops and condos aren't covered, and neither are some buildings where the landlord lives on the premises. Mohamed's platform, openigloo, has a good rundown of the carve-outs — and the platform also has badges for buildings that are covered, if you want to search yours, like I did.

With those carveouts, the new law might still not be enough to truly move the needle on broader rental costs.

"The final version cut out a lot of people, so it still remains to be seen on whether or not it will change market behavior, but it still will cover 500,000 households," Weaver said.

Per Mohamed and openigloo's data analysis, a good chunk of buildings in ultra-pricey Manhattan are covered under the new law.

But while the picture may look bleaker for more residential outer boroughs, Mohamed notes that the shares are skewed by more buildings being single-family homes. By extrapolating that 55% of units in those boroughs are likely covered — since that's the percentage of units across the city that are not regulated — Mohamed estimates that around 93% of units in the Bronx and 46% in Brooklyn are covered.

While determining whether you're covered right now may seem like a bit of guesswork, that should be cleared up soon.

"There is a disclosure requirement that landlords need to give to their renters if good cause applies to them, but they have four months to catch up with the disclosure requirements," Mohamed said. "So there is a bit of this window right now in New York City where landlords are not obligated to tell tenants yet, but good cause has gone into effect already."

For renters on the summer cycle, that's both good and bad news: The law applies to you, but, like me, you might have to seek it out. Landlords don't have to start those disclosures until August 20th.

What to do if your rent is way too high

If you receive a shocking rent increase, take some deep breaths — and also feel free to cry it out in Central Park. Then, go and check if your building is covered. If it is, a rental increase above 10% isn't necessarily illegal, but it requires more explanation.

Under the new legislation, landlords can try to raise rent above that standard, but "they have to actually talk to their tenants and tell them why they're increasing the rent," according to Davidson. It could be that your landlord had to install a new roof or boiler or put other money into the building that could merit an increase.

But if talking through the increase fails, renters can then do a few things. Of course, going to court may be daunting — and a particular strain for New Yorkers who don't have the time or resources to prepare for a battle. Sometimes, a well-articulated email communicating that you know your rights can do the trick, Mohamed said.

"Usually all that it takes is just sending a quick email and saying, 'Hey, I'm a bit surprised by this 15% increase. I was under the impression that this building falls under the good cause eviction umbrella. Let me know the next steps before I flag this to the city or to my attorney or to whomever,'" she said. After all, many landlords may want to avoid the costs of a court battle.

In my case, a long email resulted in my rent increase going down. But I also have the resources to know the economic landscape of the city and the country — I am, in fact, an economics reporter. English is also my first language, unlike other renters in the city, again giving me a leg up in pushing back. But for some, court may have to be the way to go.

"The way to challenge it is to either not sign the lease and then get taken to court for not signing your lease and then defend saying, 'this increase is too high,' or to pay the old amount and not the new amount, get taken to court for a nonpayment case and defend that the rent is too high," Davidson said.

That might still mean a power balance weighted against renters — and one that requires further action.

"What people need to know is that you have these rights and the best way to enforce them is if you're collectively working with your neighbors," Weaver said.

It's a power-in-numbers situation: When just one tenant like me goes against a landlord, they might be able to change their circumstance. But that's not a guarantee.

"They are going to have the money — that's your rent money — to hire every lawyer under the sun to try to fight you," Weaver said. "I think it's really important that tenants spend time together organizing in order to make sure that these rights are enforced."

Will Good Cause Eviction change or impact your life? Contact this reporter at

Popular Right Now