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Speakers at hearing call for tenant protections 

Speaker after speaker at a State Assembly hearing on housing issues on Friday had one message: New York tenants of all types and in all locations need stronger protections.

The hearing, in the Monroe County Legislature's chambers at the County Office Building, was one of three held around the state. About two dozen people offered testimony regarding their own circumstances or, in the case of some attorneys or advocacy group representatives, about the problems faced by people they work with. And many speakers backed the statewide expansion of laws that already exist in New York City, particularly rent regulation and good-cause eviction laws.  

The hearing's panel, led by Assembly Housing Committee chair Steven Cymbrowitz, also included Rochester region members Harry Bronson and Jamie Romeo, who are Democrats, as well as Mark Johns and Marjorie Byrnes, who are Republicans.

Tiara Tazell, an employee at Strong hospital and a Monroe Community College student, provided an example of the rent burden many Rochester tenants face. She lives with her children in the 19th Ward and pays over half of her income for a three-bedroom apartment. She could find a cheaper place but it would be farther from her job. She also noted that the house she lives in last sold for $53,000.

In response, Johns said that what seems to keep many lower-income people from owning homes is saving for a down-payment and closing costs. The state and federal governments should be helping in these circumstances, Johns said, and he asked Tazell whether a mortgage would be cheaper than her rent; it would, she said.

Members of the Akron Mobile Home Park Tenants Association shared their well-publicized conflict with their park's new owner, Sunrise Capital Investors. The company is jacking up land rents and has ended maintenance services that had been available to the park's mobile home owners. The speakers noted that investment firms are using similar tactics at mobile and manufactured home parks across the United States.

The Akron Association members spoke in support of broad tenant protections, but specifically backed a bill that would give mobile and manufactured home tenants the right of first refusal when a sale is on the table.

One Rochester resident said in his testimony that the building he lived in was bought by a new landlord, who informed all residents they could no longer stay in their apartments. Ultimately, after pressure from tenants and housing activists, the landlord agreed to resettle some of the residents in other properties the company owns while allowing others more time to search for a new apartment. Good-cause eviction legislation would help prevent those kinds of situations.

Existing Assembly bills would prohibit landlords from forcing out month-to-month tenants unless they don't pay their rent, conduct illegal activities, cause a nuisance, or engage in certain other specified behavior. Some bills would also require landlords to renew tenants' leases unless the tenants commit similar infringements.

And Sophie Poost, a systems advocate at the Center for Disability Rights, spoke about the "extreme scarcity" of affordable units for disabled people. She said that people who need apartments that are wheelchair accessible often have limited options for where the units are located, and they end up paying higher rents. She also said that often, tenants aren't provided with proper accommodations, and they're afraid to speak up about their needs for fear they'll be evicted.

Poost's testimony added to the arguments for greater regulation on when landlords can and cannot force tenants out of apartments.

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