A federal eviction moratorium expires Dec. 31. What does that mean for NY tenants

Cross-posted from Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

by Sarah Taddeo,  New York State Team

  • The CDC evictions moratorium, meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 and keep tenants in their homes, is expiring on Dec. 31.
  • Housing advocates in New York say neither the federal nor state eviction moratoriums currently in effect do much to protect tenants.
  • They’re pushing for a more comprehensive state moratorium with fewer loopholes.

The federal moratorium on evictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire at the end of the month, leading some to question whether New York state’s eviction protections will shield those still struggling to pay rent and stay in their homes.

The moratorium, enacted in September by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was meant to stay the spread of COVID-19 by providing an eviction defense for tenants facing job loss, substantial loss of income or homelessness. It expires Dec. 31.

New Yorkers were protected by a comprehensive, state-ordered moratorium, or “pause,” on evictions, enacted during the pandemic, but it expired on Oct. 1.

Now, New York residents have some protection from residential evictions under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, a law passed in June that prevents courts from evicting tenants facing financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neither the CDC moratorium nor the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, however, prohibit landlords from filing eviction cases, advocates say, leaving tenants in need of legal representation and unsure whether they’re protected.

How has the federal order been interpreted, and has it worked to stop evictions?

A man wears personal protective equipment as he rides his bicycle along Roosevelt Avenue Saturday, April 4, 2020, in the Queens borough of New York. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

If a landlord starts an eviction proceeding, tenants could use the federal directive as a defense in court by filing a declaration stating that they experienced significant financial losses as a result of the pandemic, and thus are unable to pay rent and are in danger of eviction.

But the conditions are vague and left up to judicial discretion, meaning that the order is interpreted differently based on location.

“You’re rolling the dice with the judges,” said Ryan Acuff of the City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester, where around 88 eviction warrants have been filed between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30, Acuff estimated.

For example, the moratorium stipulates that a tenant must display their best efforts to obtain government assistance for housing and make timely partial payments of rent — and a judge decides whether they’ve checked those boxes, said Rebecca Gerard, campaigns manager for New York Housing Justice, a statewide housing advocacy nonprofit.

Tenants may be required to pay unpaid rent on their units after the moratorium is lifted. This brought the ire of housing advocacy organizations, who argued the moratorium would simply delay a dire financial situation for tenants, as opposed to truly forgiving or cancelling payments.

Additionally, tenants are still being evicted around the country because the moratorium does not prevent so-called “no-fault” evictions, when a landlord decides not to renew a lease, or evictions due to violations of lease agreements. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at least 244 families were served eviction papers as of Nov. 30, during the moratorium, due to alleged lease agreement violations, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Calls to advocacy organizations are increasing as tenants, many still without jobs or financial stability thanks to the pandemic, try to understand their rights and protections after an eviction notice is filed.

 “A lot of people think they’re protected and they’re not,” said Acuff.

United Tenants of Albany, which advocates for tenant rights and better housing options in the Capital District, received 900 calls since Oct. 1, Gerard said; double the amount they’d typically receive in the same period, pre-pandemic.

“There hasn’t been an actual policy solution that stabilizes the housing system for tenants and for some landlords, so we’re just kicking the can,” Acuff said. “But unfortunately, while we’re kicking the can, many of these moratoriums have limited effectiveness, and people are being kicked out.”

What happens if the federal order expires at the end of the year?

New Yorkers still have some protections from evictions after a federal eviction moratorium expires Dec. 31.

Housing advocates expect to see a jump in eviction filings and warrants if the order is allowed to expire. While it does not provide sweeping relief, it stayed some evictions and bought tenants time.

Losing that protection could lead to further crowding in homes or shelters as residents seek out other housing, which could aid the spread of COVID-19.

Recently released research from the University of California Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University found that lifting state eviction moratoriums across the nation amounted to an estimated 433,700 excess COVID-19 cases and 10,700 excess deaths during the study period, which ran from March 13 to Sept. 3.

“In the interest of public health and safety, people cannot be put in situations where they’re doubling up with family and friends,” Gerard said.

What other eviction protections do New Yorkers have?

In a sign of the times, even a statue of Frederick Douglass is wearing a mask in downtown Rochester Monday, April 20, 2020. Someone put a mask on the statue, created by artist Olivia Kim, that stands in Washington Square Park.

The Tenant Safe Harbor Act, signed into law this summer by Cuomo, is a statewide counterpart to the federal eviction moratorium, and works in a similar way. It allows tenants to argue that they are unable to pay rent because of financial woes related to COVID-19.

The state protections apply to residential tenants who fell behind on rent after March 7 and remain in effect for as long as a state of emergency remains in place for COVID-19.

In October, Cuomo extended these protections to apply to those facing eviction before March 7 who have since faced COVID-related financial issues. The extended protections are set to remain in place until Jan. 1, though Cuomo could extend them.

But that move still doesn’t protect tenants being evicted for other reasons, said Acuff.

Acuff and other housing advocates spoke to Mayor Lovely Warren in Rochester this week, urging her to order a city-wide moratorium on evictions.

At the state level, housing organizations like Rochester’s City-Wide Tenant Union are supporting the Emergency Housing Stability and Displacement Prevention Act, a state bill that would halt all eviction proceedings until at least the end of the pandemic. The bill is currently under committee review, and lawmakers are set to return to session in January.

“We do believe there are solutions to these issues,” Acuff said. “But while the can is being kicked down the road on a real policy, we need to keep people from being kicked out.”

More:New York extends ban on commercial evictions. Here’s for how long

More:Residential evictions begin in Rochester as city braces for possible wave

Sarah Taddeo is the consumer watchdog reporter for USA Today Network’s New York State Team. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or (585) 258-2774. Follow her on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.

 

 

RIGHT TO COUNSEL R2C – THE TIME IS NOW!

Most people know that everyone who is charged with a criminal offense is entitled to representation by legal counsel – regardless of their ability to pay. But what about civil court, especially Landlord-Tenant matters? How is it that, in something as fundamentally important as a place to live, tenants are not guaranteed that same Right to Counsel, as a right, regardless of ability to pay? Anyone who’s ever witnessed the operation of local Landlord/Tenant Courts knows that virtually every landlord is represented by an attorney while hardly any tenant is so represented.  This results in a huge, and at times insurmountable, imbalance of power.

There is a movement throughout the country that is attempting to remedy this manifestly unfair dynamic – The Right to Counsel Campaign. Many jurisdictions – cities, counties and states are
passing ordinances guaranteeing income-eligible tenants the right to be represented by counsel throughout the eviction process. This would begin to level the playing field in local Landlord-Tenant Courts.

Here in Westchester, Mt. Vernon United Tenants (MVUT), Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV) and a number of other not-for profit organizations that are working to fight evictions and prevent homelessness have created the Westchester County Right to Counsel Coalition (R2C) .

We’re enclosing a few pieces from the R2C Coalition:

  • “Stop evictions – Prevent Homelessness, sup port Right to Counsel” – Key points to consider (see PDF)
  •  Suggested letter to Westchester County Board of Leqislators (W-BOL) (see PDF)
  • List of county Legislators* with contact information (see PDF)

*Note: On the list of County Legislators, you’ll notice that District 13 is blank – that is Mt. Vernon, and it is empty as our long-time county Legislator Lyndon Williams recently resigned to become a Mt. Vernon City Court Judge. Lyndon’s seat will most likely be taken by Tyrae Woodsan, a legislative aide for Congressman Etiot Engel. It appears that Tyrae will be running unopposed. However, we do not at this time have any contact information on him. That will have to wait until after Election buy on November 3’o. We’ll provide that information to our members and friends as it becomes available.

For those of you who are not Mt. Vernon residents, please use the suggested letter and mail it to your respective county Legislators today. For Mt. Vernonites, you’ll have to wait till sometime in November. However, EVERYONE SHOULD WRITE THE LETTER!

Additionally, we’ll be scheduling an action in White Plains late in October when we’ll want as many people to come as possible.  We’ll have specific information in an upcoming mailing and you can call the office as well.  If you belong to a church or other organization that you believe would support the goal of “Right to Counsel’,, have them contact us and become part of the coalition!  We’d encourage them to come to the action in White Plains as well.

TENANTS UNITED CAN WIN!!!
Support Tenant Rights!
Support MVUT!!

Download Right To Counsel Mailing PDF

Early October 2020 News and Updates

MVUT normally holds its ANNUAL MEETING on the first Tuesday of October.  However, because of the Pandemic, we cannot successfully “Social Distance” in our office for the number of people required. Accordingly, we will continue to provide our program delivery until such time when we can successfully conduct our ANNUAL MEETING. The current Board of Directors will remain in their seats until that time.

Census 2020

Great News! A federal judge in California has overturned the Trump administration’s shortening of the time to complete the Census questionnaire from September 30, 2020 to its original date of October 31, 2020. The extra month provides us the opportunity to significantly raise the percentage of Mt. Vernon residents to complete the questionnaires. THIS lS VITALLY IMPORTANT! Mt. Vernon stands to lose millions of dollars over the next decade if we do not dramatically increase the percentage of Mt, Vernon residents. We can all play a role in making this happen. As of September 30, only 56.7% of Mt. Vernon residents have successfully completed the Census. We are tied for last among all of the Westchester-municipalities in our response rate! That is unacceptable and it will irreparably harm Mt. Vernon for the next decade. MVUT is working with various others to increase our census numbers.

What can you do?

1) lf you or anyone you know has not filled out the Census questionnaire, come to the MVUT office and we’ll quickly help you do so.

2) lf there are many people in your building who have not completed the Census, MVUT will come to your building for a meeting in your lobby to help people complete the questionnaire.

3) As in #2, maybe you’d like to set up a meeting in your church where we’d likewise set up a table to help complete the questionnaire.

4) lf you know of any community events where a crowd is expected, let us know and we’ll try to get volunteers there to help with the census.

Remember, this is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure major federal dollars for Mt. Vernon. Let’s make the most of it.

Election Day, November 3, 2020

This is probably the most important election in all of our lifetimes. ln the last mailing we provided  a list of times and places for “early voting” from Saturday, October 24, through Sunday, November 1.  If you or someone you know is not registered to vote and wants to register, they must do so by Friday, October 9.  We have voter registration forms in our office. If you have questions about the voting process, you should call the Westchester Board of Elections at:  (914) 995-5700 or check out their website at: https://citizenparticipation.westchestergov.com/

Eviction Moratorium 

On Monday, September 28 Governor Cuomo extended the eviction moratorium under the State Tenant Safe Harbor Act to Janua ry 1,2021. While this is perhaps seen as merely “kicking the can down the road,” it does provide tenants with time to work out plans for rent repayment, and more importantly gives the federal government more  opportunity to provide economic relief to cities and states, which could be utilized to protect tenants who are in serious arrears.

Neighborhood Preservation Coalition of New York State (NPC/NYS)  

The NPC/NYS for a long time has been MVUT’s largest funding source. The NpC/NyS normally holds their Annual Meeting and Conference in October, However this year as a result of the pandemic,  there will be no Conference. In its place the NpC/NyS has decided to host a series of Webinars on various housing issues

We’re enclosing a list and descriptions of the five (5) Webinars. We’ll be participating in these Webinars from our office. If you’d like to sit in at our office for any of these Webinars from our office, call the office and we’ll try to facilitate that.

SUPPORT TENANTS’ RIGHTS!

SUPPORT AFFORDABLE  HOUSING ! !

Support MVUT!!!

Download MVUT Early Oct 2020 News and Updates

Voting Times and Places

Census Remarks and Facts

List of NPC/NYS Webinars