These Are The Protections New Yorkers Have From Eviction

Max Touhey

The state court system has paused evictions until at least August 5.

The novel coronavirus has pummeled New York City’s economy, leaving workers who were once gainfully employed to grapple with the economic fallout. And in a city where renters make up nearly two-thirds of the population, several questions loom large: What happens if I can’t make rent? Will I be evicted? And what rights do I have as a tenant?

The good news is that some tenants still have protection from eviction, even though Governor Andrew Cuomo has terminated part of his modified eviction moratorium.

Back in March, New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced a suspension on court eviction proceedings, but a loophole briefly allowed landlords to file new cases. Shortly after, Cuomo closed that loophole by blocking those proceedings and enacting a statewide moratorium on evictions until June 20.

Cuomo extended that moratorium until August — narrowing who qualified under the order — but in a maddening twist, the governor rescinded part of that mandate on July 6. Now, under yet another executive order, a freeze on the statute of limitations has allowed the Office of Court Administration to continue its hold on moving eviction cases forward.

At the same time, the governor’s directive also rolled back protections prohibiting new residential eviction cases for both nonpayment of rent and foreclosure on residential mortgages. (Though, he has let that provision stand for commercial tenants.) Instead, Cuomo is relying on the recently enacted Tenant Safe Harbor Act — which provides residential tenants with a defense they can use in court, but does not block new cases from being filed — to serve as New Yorkers’ remaining COVID-19-related protection from eviction.

A qualifying renter under the legislation can never be evicted for the nonpayment of rent accrued between March 7 and the full reopening of their county. Landlords, however, can still seek money judgements to recuperate missed rent payments for that period.

But tenants grappling with eviction cases for reasons other than nonpayment, along with those who had cases in the works against them in early March, remain vulnerable, and are still as risk of being removed from their homes.

In short, a swath of renters have protection from eviction but they’ll have to prove their case before a judge to qualify. And even though the city’s housing courts have partially reopened, most proceedings are stalled due to guidance from the court system.

That may begin to change come July 27, when Brooklyn housing court is preparing to resume in-person trials for pending eviction cases that were filed before March 16. Other boroughs are expected to soon follow, but the courts have yet to released a timeline.

In the meantime, eviction warrants are not being executed and, for now, renters cannot legally be evicted from their homes. That doesn’t mean some landlords won’t try. Housing attorneys and tenant hotlines have been busy fielding questions from frazzled renters receiving misinformation, or even threats.

If you’re trying to make sense of these bewildering orders and figure out what this all means for you, read on for a breakdown of protections New Yorkers currently have from eviction.

What does a hold of eviction proceedings mean for renters?

New York’s Office of Court Administration has extended a pause on evictions and related proceedings at least through August 5, even as Cuomo rolled back restrictions for new eviction cases under his July executive order.

If you had a pending eviction case those proceedings, by and large, have been temporarily adjourned. If you recently received a notice of eviction, that by itself is not enough for your landlord to evict you; a landlord must get an order from the court to legally evict a tenant, even if their lease has expired or they are behind on rent. Now that evictions are halted, this court-ordered pause defers most of those proceedings.

New York City’s five housing courts partially reopened in late June. Landlords have begun to mail in new cases to the courts — electronic filing is being implemented — but those new cases won’t move forward until August at the earliest.

Settlement talks for certain pending eviction cases are one of the few proceedings still taking place, which have been conducted over Skype. Qualifying cases must have commenced before the pandemic and both parties must have counsel, but they’ll only take part in settlement talks and judges cannot order evictions.

How does the Tenant Safe Harbor Act factor into things?

The Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which was sponsored by Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman and Bronx Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, makes it so tenants can never be evicted for missing rent payments throughout the COVID-19 crisis, specifically from March 7 until all coronavirus-related restrictions are lifted in a tenant’s county (that is, so long as the tenant can demonstrate to a judge that they suffered a financial hardship during that period).

It’s crucial to understand that this legislation does not waive rents for that period. A renter can’t be evicted because they missed rent during that time, but a landlord can still seek a money judgement to recuperate any unpaid rent.

But as Patrick Tyrrell, a staff attorney with Mobilization for Justice, notes, such a judgement could still do “a lot of harm” to tenants who could face having their wages garnished, liens put against their personal property, or seeing their credit ravaged if they are unable to pay.

If I won’t be evicted, do I still have to pay rent?

Short answer: Yes; the Tenant Safe Harbor Act does not cancel rent payments, and if you can, you should still pay your rent. Not paying rent can open a legal pandora’s box that enables a landlord to bring a nonpayment case against a tenant.

That said, paying rent may not be feasible for many New Yorkers who recently lost work. This is why the (now defunct) eviction moratorium, and subsequent legislation, came into existence: So those who are suffering a sudden financial hardship aren’t forced onto the streets during a pandemic.

For those struggling to make ends meet, the city’s Human Resources Administration can offer some help through the “One Shot Deal.” This emergency assistance program can provide qualifying New Yorkers with a one-time payment they can put toward rent.

Jason Wu, a housing attorney and a trustee for the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, says communication can also be key here. If you can’t make rent, you might want to let your landlord know that you recently suffered a loss of income and see if an arrangement can be reached; when you find a new source of income, you may be able to negotiate a repayment plan with your landlord for missed payments, says Wu.

Can my landlord still file a nonpayment case against me?

Now that the city’s housing courts have partially reopened, yes. But those cases have been temporarily adjourned through at least August 5. This means that New York landlords have the option to mail paperwork that initiates new nonpayment eviction cases against tenants to the city’s five housing courts. While those cases can be filed, tenants are not currently at risk of an eviction warrant being executed against them.

But my landlord is still threatening to evict me. What do I do?

As Andrea Shapiro, a program manager with the Met Council on Housing puts it, “There’s not a lot landlords can do to get you out legally right now. The law is on your side.” As the city’s housing courts gradually reopen, some proceedings are beginning to resume, but the eviction process is a laborious one and a legal eviction is still a ways off for most renters.

You don’t have to go anywhere, and you shouldn’t: Health officials continue to caution those feeling sick — and those who are not — to limit their time outside. But if your landlord shows up at your door and claims you’ve been evicted or tries to change the locks, shut off utilities, or physically remove your belongings, you can call the police and explain that your landlord is engaging in an illegal eviction, what’s known as a self help eviction, according to Wu. (It is a criminal misdemeanor to illegally evict a tenant in New York.)

Wu worries that some landlords may try to bully tenants who are not familiar with the eviction process into leaving when they don’t have to. “I have concerns about the intimidating and harassing tactics that landlords are using that really ride the line of what’s legal but potentially arises to harassment,” says Wu. “It’s important that tenants know that protections exist.”

A city marshal is trying to evict me. Can they do that?

No. On March 13, the city’s Department of Investigations notified all marshals that eviction proceedings are suspended, and that directive has since been extended indefinitely. If a marshal tries to execute an eviction warrant, do not comply, and report the activity by calling DOI’s Bureau of City Marshals at (212) 825-5953.

“Don’t make decisions out of fear,” says Susanna Blankley, the campaign coordinator with the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. “Know that you have rights; know that you have power.”

What if I’m diagnosed with COVID-19 — does that change anything?

It’s critical to know that your landlord cannot ask you to leave your apartment because you have tested positive for COVID-19 or may be sick, according to the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants. No matter if you qualify for eviction protections or not, your landlord cannot discriminate against you, harass you, or threaten to kick you out of your home because of fear or stigma surrounding COVID-19. If you’re experiencing discrimination or harassment by your landlord, report it to the city’s Commission on Human Rights by filling out this form.

What happens when these eviction protections expire?

The answer to that question is currently up in the air.

Cuomo left renters out of a March announcement on mortgage relief, but Queens State Senator Michael Gianaris has proposed legislation that would suspend rent for 90 days for residential and commercial tenants impacted by COVID-19. The bill would also provide mortgage relief to the landlords of qualifying tenants.

“We are staring down the barrel of a housing crisis we know is coming,” says Gianaris. “We can either let that happen or we can put up some legal structure around it and try to soften the landing.”

That bill, however, was quashed when the State Legislature returned to Albany in May to take up a package of COVID-19 relief bills. Instead, state lawmakers begrudgingly approved a measure, spearheaded by State Senator Brian Kavanagh, to use federal relief dollars to provide vouchers to landlords whose tenants have lost income during the pandemic — but that aid will still be beyond the reach of many who don’t meet income requirements. Perhaps the legislature’s most significant housing relief measure to pass so far is the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, though the bill’s sponsors, Hoylman and Dinowitz, acknowledge that it is only a piece of the rent relief puzzle.

“No single law can single-handedly solve the eviction crisis — but the Tenant Safe Harbor Act is one crucial step to address the looming tidal wave of evictions,” says Hoylman.

Tenant advocates and attorneys estimate more than 50,000 New Yorkers could face eviction once protections are lifted, triggering a wave of displacement across the city.

The Housing Justice for All coalition — of which the Met Council on Housing and the Right to Counsel Coalition are members — has advocated for an outright cancellation of rent payments during the pandemic, calling on the state to suspend rent for the duration of New York’s health crisis.

“Without relief, what will happen is mass displacement that would just be unconscionable,” says Blankley. At the very least, the state should extend the governor’s initial blanket moratorium for the duration of the pandemic — and then for at least three months after that, according to Shapiro. “It would give people a little more time to get on their feet and figure out what’s happening,” she says.

A new state bill, introduced by Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie, dubbed the Emergency Housing Stability and Tenant Displacement Prevention Act seeks to go much further. That legislation would prohibit evictions, new cases, and money judgements for a year after the state lifts its final COVID-19-related emergency restrictions.

“Members of our community are already hanging on by a thread and would not be able to withstand the pain and instability that an eviction would cause,” says Myrie, adding that the bill would serve as a “a stopgap measure as our economy stabilizes.”

On the city level, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who supports canceling rent, has introduced legislation that would effectively halt evictions and debt collection for both residential and commercial tenants until September 30, following the expiration of state and federal eviction protections. The bill would also prevent city marshals and sheriffs from collecting debts and carrying out evictions on New York City residents impacted by COVID-19 until April 2021. That bill has so far stalled in the Council.

But if New York is to bounce back from this pandemic without deepening the city’s homelessness crisis and further spiraling into economic uncertainty, the governor and state legislators must offer great rent relief and protection from eviction, says Wu.

“I think the initial eviction moratorium was a good first step, it provided the immediate relief,” he says. “But it was not a long-term solution. And what we have now is just kicking the can down the road.”

SOURCE: Curbed NY – All – Read entire story here.