What to do if you rent in New York and can’t pay your landlord during the Coronavirus pandemic

What to do if you rent in New York and can’t pay your landlord during the Coronavirus pandemic

Monzerrath Ortiz

New York State has the highest renting population in the country.  


In New York City alone, more than 2/3 of housing units are occupied by renters. 


Since mid-March, more than eight hundred thousand New Yorkers have filed for unemployment. The true statistic is likely higher, according to experts. 


Even those who secure unemployment benefits may still struggle to pay rent. 


New York State’s unemployment benefits cover up to $500 per week. The CARES Act allots an extra $600 per week to those who qualify for job losses due to Covid-19.


But $1100 doesn’t go far in New York City, where the average monthly rent for an apartment  is $3450.  


If you are a New Yorker who hasn’t - or soon won’t be able - to pay rent, here are the answers to some of your most pressing questions.

Can I be evicted because I lost my job during the Coronavirus outbreak? 


Not for the time being. 


In late March, federal government passed the CARES Act, which banned most residential and commercial evictions for 120 days. 


But that legislation ends in late July, meaning landlords across the country could start evicting renters at that point. 


In early May, Governor Andrew Cuomo extended New York state-specific legislation aimed to protect qualifying tenants through August 20. 


But the key word is “qualifying.” 


The ban on evictions only applies to renters who are unable to pay rent due to a Covid-19 hardship, or for renters who qualify for unemployment.


The language has left both renters and landlords confused. 


Both sides have complained that the Governor hasn’t stated how Coronavirus-related income loss can be proved or disproved. 


For example, around one million New York households are home to at least one person with undocumented status, according to a 2019 report.


Under usual circumstances, undocumented workers cannot receive unemployment benefits, although the CARES Act has allowed for more flexibility


Gig workers, independent contractors and those who are self-employed also face extra loopholes. 


In short, both landlords and renters have been left wondering, “What’s the standard of proof for why one can’t pay?”


When will I be evicted? 


Not until July. Or maybe August. Again, it’s a little confusing. 


Some landlords believe the new legislation implies that between the end of July and August 20th, they can still mail and post notices demanding rent.


Such notices are the first step in the eviction process. Others think this isn’t even allowed. 


But beyond such notices, your landlord can’t file any other paperwork. 

Can I pay partial rent?


It depends on your lease and landlord, so it is best to read your lease, and talk to your landlord, before making partial payments.


Whether you pay no rent or partial rent, remember that your landlord has the right to collect every dime you owe once the moratoriums expire. 


Can my landlord charge me late fees?


Landlords cannot charge late fees for payments delayed for COVID-19-related reasons. 


Once the moratorium expires, landlords can charge late fees again, but not retroactive fees. 


Can my landlord lock me out?


Your landlord cannot lock you out. 


If your landlord locks you out, it is recommended that you call the 24/7 statewide court hotline at (833)503-0447 or reach out to an attorney. 


If I’m not paying rent, does my landlord still have to fix things? 


Yes, depending on what’s broken.


If your kitchen cabinet doorknob falls off, your landlord doesn’t need to come running over. That’s considered normal wear and tear. 


But emergency repairs for essential utilities and important services (e.g. heat, water) are still required under the moratorium on evictions


If your landlord does not make repairs:

  • Call 311
  • Find an emergency housing court, which are still open. 


How will breaking my lease or eviction affect my credit?


It depends how much effort your landlord wants to exert.


In most cases, landlords don’t report unpaid rent or partial payments directly to credit bureaus.

To report unpaid rent, a landlord needs to become a member of credit bureaus and have a certain number of accounts to report unpaid rent. Therefore, only landlords with many properties can afford or qualify for this option. 

However, if you are eventually evicted in court, and the landlord wins a judgment, a legal order that gives debt collectors strong rights, that will appear on your credit report. 

A judgment is part of the recipe that leads to a lower credit score.

What happens if I break my lease and just leave?


If you break your lease and leave, your landlord may sue you for the balance once the moratorium expires. You are still responsible for the lease balance until there is a tenant replacement. 


Can my landlord use my security deposit to cover any rent I didn’t pay?


Yes. The new legislation says that security deposits can be used to pay rent.


But again, this only applies to renters who qualify for unemployment or face financial hardship due to the pandemic. 


And if you want to use your security deposit to cover a month’s rent, you must enter into a written agreement with your landlord saying it’s OK. 


Security deposits used to pay rent would then need to be repaid within 90 days. 


Don’t let your landlord bully you into this option. The new legislation makes it clear that renters can, but don’t need, to use their deposits to cover rent. 

What happens at the end of the moratorium on evictions?


Once the state’s order expires, eviction cases can restart or start.


Depending on your landlord, you may receive a 30 days notice for eviction during the moratorium. 


During this crisis, knowing your rights as a tenant is more important than ever, and everyone faces a different situation.  For more information, visit LawChamps' Landlord and Tenant Issues and Relief page.  If you have questions specific to your circumstances, LawChamps is here to connect you with an attorney


This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

Monzerrath Ortiz

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