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 loopholebriefly 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extended that moratorium until August — narrowing who qualifiedunder the order — but in a maddening twist, the governor rescinded part of that mandate on July 6.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.
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Photo: Max Touhey