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New York’s coronavirus eviction moratorium, explained

The state has suspended evictions until summer—here’s what renters need to know in the meantime.

The novel coronavirus has pummeled New York City’s economy, leaving workers who were gainfully employed only weeks earlier 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 all tenants—residential and commercial—are protected under a state eviction moratorium that is in effect until at least June 20. Initially, New York Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced a suspension on court eviction proceedings, but a loophole briefly allowed landlords to file new eviction cases. An executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo closed that loophole by blocking new cases until at least April 19 and enacting a statewide eviction moratorium for 90 days.

Soon after, Marks issued a new directive stressing that no new filings can occur except for “essential matters,” which includes landlord lockouts, emergency repair orders, and serious code violations. So for the next three months, New Yorkers cannot legally be evicted from their homes—full stop.

But 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 unsure what all of this means for you, read on for a break down of New York’s eviction moratorium.

What does an eviction moratorium mean for me as a renter?

The moratorium covers both residential and commercial tenants, and will be in place until at least June 20. If you had a pending eviction case those proceedings 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, the moratorium defers those proceedings and temporarily protects tenants.

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

Short answer: Yes; the eviction moratorium 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 once the moratorium is lifted.

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. For one, you’re protected under the eviction moratorium; but 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 the eviction moratorium is lifted?

The answer to that question is currently up in the air. Cuomo left renters out of a recent announcement on mortgage relief, but Queens State Senator Michael Gianaris has proposed new legislation that would suspend rent for 90 days for residential and commercial tenants impacted by the state’s outbreak of COVID-19. The legislation would also provide mortgage relief to the landlords of qualifying tenants. Manhattan Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou has introduced a version of the bill in that chamber.

“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.”

Cuomo has remained largely silent on the legislation, despite claiming at a recent press conference that the eviction moratorium “solves” the issue. Tenant advocates and housing attorneys are quick to note that tens of thousands of New Yorkers could face eviction once the moratorium is lifted, triggering a wave of displacement.

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, who says rent strikes or court action are on the horizon without relief. At the very least, the state should extend the moratorium for the duration of the pandemic—and then for 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.

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 not stop at an eviction moratorium, says Wu.

“I think the eviction moratorium was a good first step, it provides the immediate relief,” he says. “It’s not a long-term solution. It just kicks the can down the road.”

That may not be feasible for many New Yorkers who recently lost work. Therefore the eviction moratorium exists: So those who are suffering a sudden financial hardship aren’t forced into the street 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 or eviction case against me?

Eviction proceedings are paused for the time being. Cuomo’s executive order has blocked new cases until at least April 19. This means that come mid-April, New York landlords will be able to file new nonpayment and eviction cases against tenants, but those new cases will be temporarily adjourned.

Even if a landlord tries to get the ball rolling by filing a new case in April, tenants are currently not at risk of a default judgement if they don’t respond in court. It bears repeating that the courts are closed for nonessential functions and that tenants cannot be evicted with the moratorium in place until at least June 20.

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 nothing landlords can do to get you out legally right now. The law is on your side.”

You don’t have to go anywhere, and you shouldn’t: Health officials continue to caution those feeling sick—and even those who are not—from leaving home unless the state has deemed your job essential (health care, transportation, law enforcement, etc.) or to pick up groceries and medication.

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, 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 during the moratorium. “I have concerns about the intimidating and harassing tactics that landlords use 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.”

So remember: No matter what your landlord tells you, you are protected under the moratorium.


Photo Max Touhey

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