About three dozen Chinatown residents and organizers rallied in front of Manhattan Housing Court on a windy morning Wednesday, calling on Albany to pass a “good cause eviction” law that would limit rent increases on market-rate rentals, guard against unexpectedly steep rent hikes, and stop landlords from evicting tenants unless they failed to pay rent or violated the terms of their lease. 

The protesters — brought together by the nonprofits CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities and Housing for All, a statewide coalition of unhoused New Yorkers and tenants — also called out Chinese small landlords who have fought against good-cause legislation while blaming their own missed mortgage payments on tenants who stopped paying rent.

One speaker at the rally talked about having their bathroom ceiling collapse onto their toilet. Another called out damaged water pipes it took their landlord two months to fix. 

“After the global COVID-19 pandemic, every single New Yorker has been impacted by the decision between paying skyrocketing rents or living in unsafe housing conditions,” said Alina Shen, CAAAV’s lead organizer in Chinatown. “Eviction is violence, a life-altering disruption of people’s lives and communities where the majority are tenants.”

Half of New York City’s Asian tenants are rent-burdened, according to We Live NYC statistics collected in 2017, meaning they pay at least 30% of their income in rent. That’s more than the 37% of Black New Yorkers, 44% of Hispanic New Yorkers, and 41% of white New Yorkers who are also rent-burdened.

According to real estate agency Douglas Elliman, the median rent for Manhattan in March was a record $4,175, an increase of 12.8% from March 2022. 

After New York City let evictions resume in January of 2022, non-payment filings in Housing Court increased by 167.8% that year compared to 2021, according to the Rent Guidelines Board. 

‘Not the Answer’

“Everybody needs to understand that this fight is not about working-class tenants versus working-class small landlords,” CAAAV tenant leader Danying Guan told THE CITY.

“We now need to focus our energy on fighting against big money holders like banks and real estate. It’s about the Big Us vs. Them: working-class people against the rich, who are trying to make money off of us,” Guan said.

Small landlords have pushed back aggressively on adding more tenant protections to a system that they say “is so unfair to landlords,” as building owner and home attendant Xiujin Zhao previously told THE CITY

Chinatown tenants make known their support for “good cause eviction,” April 19, 2023. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“These policies would only encourage bad tenants and make them greedier,” Zhao continued. “They’d make more small landlords like me lose our life savings on our properties that bleed out money.” 

But Guan said that while she understands that both landlords and tenants need financial help, raising the rent isn’t the way to do it. Guan believes small landlords and residents should direct their anger elsewhere. 

“Tenants and small landlords both need support when tenants cannot pay rent. Eviction of tenants is not the answer, nor is allowing corporate landlords to buy out small landlords,” CAAAV Executive Director Sasha Wijeyeratne told THE CITY. “Banks making massive profit off of predatory debt — while tenants and small landlords suffer — need to be held accountable.”

A 65-year-old tenant who asked to be called only Mr. Chen echoed that. “Landlords’ debts are not the responsibility of tenants,” he said.

Advocates for a good cause eviction law have long pointed out provisions in the bill that would protect small landlords, homeowners and tenants, including exemptions for owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer units. 

Chen Yun, a tenant who’s lived in Chinatown since 1996, said that she and her husband lost their jobs during the pandemic, and the majority of their retirement money now goes towards rent. 

“If our landlord raises rent, we won’t be able to afford it,” Yun said in Mandarin at Wednesday’s rally, where her remarks were translated into English by organizer Julie Xu. “We don’t want to lose our home.” 

That, said Yun, ”is why we need to support Good Cause. We need to end rent hikes and end evictions to protect all tenants in New York, to protect their homes and their safety.”