New York state’s lawmakers voted, once again, to extend a residential and commercial eviction moratorium until January 15th, 2022, with changes to account for two Supreme Court decisions that blocked the state’s program and the larger federal moratorium.
Governor Kathy Hochul, who convened a special session of the state legislature Wednesday to vote on the extension, is expected to sign the bill on Thursday. (A previously announced signing event in Yonkers State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is no longer on her schedule.)
The new moratorium will potentially protect hundreds of thousands of tenants from eviction, while granting landlords broader power to challenge tenants who they doubt are suffering financial hardship.
Landlords now have a right to request a hearing in housing court to contest any tenant’s claim of financial hardship that protected them from eviction. The Supreme Court had found the previous policy, which allowed tenants to self-attest on a form that they faced financial hardship, was a potential violation of the landlord’s right to due process. A separate Supreme Court decision further eroded protections for tenants in New York when it overturned the federal eviction moratorium.
The extension came as welcome relief to New Yorkers who were staring down the August 31st expiration of the moratorium.
“This last month, it’s been torture,” said Sherease Torain, 42, who was fighting to stay in her Crown Heights home even before the pandemic, but she lost her job at a law office when the pandemic hit. “It gives me time to breathe. I have not been breathing. My nervous system has been in a state of fight, fight and freeze. I thought any day now, they were going to put all of our stuff outside in the street.”
The extra four-month pause before housing courts start ramping up will allow the state more time to speed up the dispersal of federal rent relief funds for landlords whose tenants owe an estimated $2.2 billion dollars in back-rent statewide. Most new eviction cases have been on hold since March of 2020, when the state enacted the first stay on evictions.
The Rent Stabilization Association, one of the plaintiffs that brought the lawsuit that ended up before the Supreme Court, promised to sue again.
“Albany lawmakers can’t decide which part of the Supreme Court order they follow and which part they ignore, or which parts they determine are valid and which they can disregard,” said Joseph Strasburg, the association’s president. “The Supreme Court recognized the importance of landlords’ property and due process rights, and ruled that the harm to landlords is so great that they must be protected from the law.”
Under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, New York’s program was the slowest to begin dispersing funds in the country, a state comptroller audit found, though the process is now speeding up. Hochul has promised to expedite the process of getting the federal funds out to New Yorkers. Through August 23rd, the state had distributed about 7%—just over $203 million—of $2.7 billion dollars in federal funds to landlords who are owed back-rent by their tenants, according to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance which is administering the program.
Advocates say the biggest hurdle ahead is making sure the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who qualify for rent-relief know about the program and have the tools they need to navigate the application system. Only around 176,000 households have applied through August 23rd, though an estimated 700,000 New York households are behind on the $2.2 billion in rent payments according to the National Equity Atlas.
“What ads are we going to put on the subways, what ads are we going to put on the buses? What are we going to put in people’s mailboxes and inboxes?” wondered Cea Weaver, with Housing Justice for All. “What we did for the census we need to do for this, otherwise people will self-evict.”
The new bills put about $400 million in new state and federal funds towards the state’s rental relief efforts and to conduct more tenant outreach. Some funds have been set aside for tenant lawyers, while another pot of funds was carved out for people who earned above 80% of the area median income, or $95,000 for a family of four in New York City. (The $95,000 figure was the previous cut off for receiving assistance.)
Senate and Assembly Republicans railed against the extension, arguing it provided further cover for the state drag out dispersal of rent relief funds to the peril of property owners.
“All we’re doing is punting, we’re kicking the can down the road to January,” said State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt, who voiced concern about having so little time to review the legislation. “I believe this is about chipping away good-cause evictions, I believe it’s about undermining property owners’ rights, the right to own property…and creating a catastrophic situation down the road.”
Source: The Gothamist
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