Despite looming end to rent moratorium, New Yorkers can still avoid eviction — for now
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A federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire on Saturday but New Yorkers who owe back rent have breathing room for at least another month — infuriating landlords who are collectively holding billions of dollars worth of IOUs.
New York is one of nine states and Washington, DC, where tenant protections run past the deadline set last month when Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky extended an order banning evictions “to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
At the time, the CDC said Walensky’s order was “intended to be the final extension” but a House panel on Friday mounted a last-ditch effort to push back the cutoff date.
In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that extended a ban on virtually all eviction and foreclosure proceedings through Aug. 31, calling it “critical that we continue to protect both New York’s tenants and business owners who have suffered tremendous hardship throughout this entire pandemic.”
A carve-out in place since December exempts tenants who don’t claim a COVID-19 hardship or pose health or safety hazards to their neighbors but online records show there have only been 61 evictions in the city since March 17, 2020.
Landlord Clarence Hamer, who owns a two-family rowhouse in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, said he’s owed $67,000 in back rent by a tenant who hasn’t paid anything since August 2019 — and he hasn’t been able to press his case in Housing Court due to the pandemic.
“There is no court that is going to preside over an eviction case as long as the moratorium is in place,” Hamer said.
“I don’t think they should drag it out anymore but that’s what the state and the government are doing.”
Landlord lawyer Melissa Levin of the Long Island firm of Horing Welikson Rosen & Digrugilliers said that before the pandemic, eviction proceedings took three to six months in court, and sometimes more than a year.
Levin also said cases would likely drag on even longer once the courts start hearing them again and get deluged by new filings.
“We have a lot of cases that have been in a holding pattern since the pandemic onset,” she said.
“I don’t have the words to express how angry and anxious and frustrated landlords are in New York City.”
Another landlord lawyer, David Haberman of Rose & Rose Law in Manhattan, said that “the costs of running a building in New York City are very high” and that property owners “are suffering from financial hardship.”
“They need the revenue to run their buildings,” he said.
“That includes the expense of providing heat, it includes paying real estate taxes, it includes paying personnel and staff, building supers and contractors.”
Olga Someras, general counsel of the pro-landlord Rent Stabilization Association, predicted that the housing courts would be overwhelmed by “the sheer volume of cases” once the moratorium ends.
“I think what you will see is a lot of people going into foreclosure, being forced to sell to cash buyers or people able to take advantage of landlords who can’t wait anymore for the court to allow their case to proceed,” she said.
The state Office of Court Administration has been preparing for the crush by trying to resolve as many non-eviction cases in the city as possible — including nuisance tenants, overstays and lockouts — with the help of about a dozen re-assigned state Supreme Court justices, spokesman Lucian Chalfen said.
“We have been encouraging people to go forward,” he said. “There have been bench trials, there have been settlements.”
Meanwhile, the state is sitting on a $2.7 billion pot of taxpayer cash that’s set aside to cover up to 15 months of back rent and up to a year of utility bills owed by low- and moderate-income households, regardless of immigration status.
On Monday, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) blasted Cuomo’s administration for not dispensing the money — virtually all of which came from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan — “before it’s too late for tenants and landlords.”
The move shamed the governor into announcing a streamlined application process that he said would result in payments to as many as 200,000 households.
Tiffany King, 50, said she vainly sought help paying for the $1,450-a-month apartment she shares with her four kids in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, after she was laid off from her job as a hotel worker in March 2020 due to the pandemic.
“I’m unemployed and I filled out for that rent relief but they sent something back saying it’s not completed right,” said King, a member of the Crown Heights Tenants Union activist group.
“What do they want us to do? We lost our goddamn jobs. Hire us. Give us work. We would have no problem paying for our bills.”
King also suggested that landlords should be the ones to submit the documents for relief payments.
“Since they want the money so bad, why don’t they fill out the forms?” she said.
On Thursday, Belinda Perez, 46, was at Brooklyn Housing Court with her mom, who was slapped with a summons for non-payment of rent.
“She has not paid for two months last year. It was around when COVID was bad and everyone was stocking up on toilet paper, food, you know,” Perez said.
“She is 71. She was afraid to go outside. That’s where the money went. She owes $2,700. She is on [Supplemental Security Income]. It’s not she like she has a lot of money.”
Referring to the eviction moratorium, Perez said, “That definitely will affect her if they don’t change the date. We are hoping for an extension.”
Additional reporting by Steven Vago
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