Eviction And Renting In New York During The Coronavirus Pandemic: What Rights Do Renters Have?

Eviction And Renting In New York During The Coronavirus Pandemic: What Rights Do Renters Have?

LawChamps
 | 
Around five million people rent housing units in New York City.  That's  two-thirds of the population of the state, according to recent statistics.

In Buffalo,  49% of the total number of households are renters.

Unfortunately, a large portion of these people are unable to pay rent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because so many people are fleeing New York, and so many are unable to pay, rent in the city has dropped by around 9%. The median rent is now $3,200 in July 2020 compared to July 2019, according to an analysis by StreetEasy. Even that's a lot of money for most people, however. 
 
How is New York protecting its renters from eviction? 

 
In response to COVID-19, Mayor de Blasio announced in early August the launch of the Tenant Resource Portal to help renters access free private and public resources to help prevent evictions. 
 
Despite the drop in rentals and greater discounted rentals – climbing to 24% in May up from 14.5% in May of the previous year—renters were prone to eviction. Around 25% of New York City tenants haven’t paid rent since April,
Michael Johnson, communications director for the community housing improvement program, announced in July.

Even though some workers are back in business as the city entered phase four of reopening in July, unemployment in New York State stood at around 20% in July. That's higher than 15% from July 2019 but lower by 0.5% compared to June 2020. Residents in New York City filed around 1.4 million claims for unemployment benefits by May.
 
Can my landlord evict me if I don’t pay my rent if I’ve lost my job because of COVID-19? 
 
No. Now that the Cares Act has expired, New York State extended a state-wide eviction moratorium until October 1. 
 
However, this is not catch-all protection. 
  • If you were already being evicted, your landlord from continuing the process of evicting you.
  • If you are being evicted for reasons other than being delinquent on unpaid charges, you can still be evicted. 
 What happens if I was already being evicted, or my landlord is threatening to evict me for reasons unrelated to my unpaid charges?
 
Under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, residential tenants are provided with a defense they can use in court in the situation where landlords are filing cases against them, thus offering them a form of protection in response to the pandemic.
 
A renter is protected and can never be evicted, under that legislation, for not paying rent accrued since March 7 until the state lifts its final pandemic-related restrictions. So if you are still being evicted, the following may still continue to happen during this time: 
  • Landlords can still seek money judgments to recover missed rent for that period
  • You will still be in a vulnerable position if you were being evicted for reasons other than non-payment or if you had cases against you before mid-March
  • You have protection from eviction but still you have to prove their case before a judge to qualify for this legislation. 
  • Even if you are protected from illegal evictions, you could still be prone to landlords’ illegal evictions.
 
If you are concerned about being evicted, it is always best to talk to your landlord directly, and explain your situation. 
 
For more resources, including sample letters to send to your landlord for seeking rent relief, visit Court Buddy’s Landlord-Tenant resources page. 
 
What happens at the end of eviction moratorium on October 1st?

It is not clear what will unfold after expiration. However, New York State lawmakers have been pushing to pass the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020 which should cancel residential rents accrued between March 7 and the lifting of the statute.

A new state bill introduced by State Senator Zellnor Myrie called the Emergency Housing Stability and Tenant Displacement Prevention Act seeks to prohibit evictions, new cases, and money judgments for a year after the state lifts pandemic-related restrictions. 

In New York City, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced a legislation that would prevent city marshals and sheriffs from collecting debts and carrying out evictions on city residents impacted by the pandemic until April 2021. This bill has so far stalled in Council.

Can I pay partial rent?
 
You can if you arrange that with your landlord, but know that any rent that you fail to pay now, you will have to pay later. 
 
The National Multifamily Housing Council’s Rent Payment Tracker reported that 90% of apartment households nationwide made a full or partial rent payment by August 20, according to their survey of 11.4 million units.

During Court Buddy’s Legal Meetup on May 8th, Michael Neumann, Esq affirmed, “If you can't pay your rent because you don't have enough money, don't pay your rent.” 
However, your landlord is still entitled to collect all rental debt you accrue during this moratorium. 
 
You may also be responsible for the entirety of your unpaid charges when the federal moratorium ends in October. If you are unable to pay the entirety of your rent, it is best to keep your landlord informed. 
 
For more resources, including sample letters to send to your landlord, visit Court Buddy’s Landlord-Tenant resources page. 
 
Can my landlord charge me late fees?
 
Governor Cuomo’s efforts to protect New York’s renters during the pandemic, includes a statewide moratorium on both residential and commercial evictions. This means fees for missed rent or late payments are banned
 
Can my landlord lock me out?
 
It is a criminal misdemeanor to illegally evict a tenant in New York State and that includes the landlord trying to changing the locks, or shutting off utilities, or physically removing your belongings. This illegal eviction is known as “self help eviction” and you are entitled to call the police and inform them that you are being illegally evicted. 
 
The landlord is required to file an eviction case in court to begin removing proceedings through court order, in which case has been suspended until the moratorium ends. Before any of this happens, it is illegal for your landlord to lock you out or shut off your utilities. 
 
I rent a low-income housing unit in New York. Are there any additional protections or relief programs available to me?
 
Governor Cuomo announced an emergency rental assistance program that went into effect on July 16. It is meant to help low-income families throughout the state by providing a direct aid for tenants who lost income due to COVID-19. The program, which can accessed here, is funded through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, which is part of the CARES Act and administered by New York State Hoes and Community Renewal. 
 
 

 
 
 
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.
 
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