The rental landscape in New York City, even in the best of times, can be strewn with barley hidden potholes.

We at THE CITY want to help tenants navigate housing during the pandemic, when both the stakes and potential pitfalls have been heightened. So we started NYC Rent Update — a new newsletter from The Open Newsroom at THE CITY that aims to offer some clarity and tips. 

We’ll begin by breaking down some of the latest information we learned about evictions in the city.

At this point, you’ve probably heard that Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended New York’s eviction moratorium — but it’s not so simple. 

Local housing experts and even the Office of Court Administration were confused at first about who exactly would be protected by the governor’s latest word: Is it just those who were being evicted for not paying rent, or any tenant negatively impacted by the pandemic?

Last week, the state courts system released a memo saying the order contained some unclear language, so now it’s up to individual judges to decide who is protected by Cuomo’s moratorium extension. So far, a few judges have ruled that the order is broader than just nonpayment and can cover tenants with other kinds of eviction cases, too — like breaking the terms of a lease, for example.

The main thing New Yorkers need to know is that if you’ve lived in your apartment for more than 30 days, you can’t be evicted without going through the courts, which are processing cases at a slower pace than usual because of the pandemic, noted Justin La Mort, an attorney with Mobilization for Justice

Logan Schiff, an eviction attorney at Legal Services NYC, said it’s most likely that any evictions filed after March won’t get to court until at least 2021. 

And Lucian Chalfen, an Office of Court Administration spokesperson, said new cases won’t be heard “for a very long time.”

More of the latest…

  • Some rules are changing week to week: Since there is no longer a total eviction moratorium that covers everyone and stops the process altogether, the rules for which cases can start moving through courts — and how that will happen — continue to change week to week.
  • In September, landlords could trigger the first step of the eviction process: Landlords could start filing new eviction cases in September. They weren’t able to file them before because of an earlier moratorium. Filing is just the first step and for a lot of tenants doesn’t require immediate action.
  • Just this week: Housing Court started to assign court dates for evictions that landlords filed after March 16, the day Housing Court closed because of the coronavirus outbreak. Tenants can expect to receive a letter in the mail with a court date and instructions on how to appear virtually, if possible.
  • But first, those old cases: Before hearing new eviction cases, the courts are continuing to process the 14,500 cases that received eviction judgements before the pandemic. The court also have started working through the 200,000 cases that were in process when the courts closed.

Here’s what you need to know…

If your landlord is trying to evict you now:

  • A 14-day notice or “rent demand” does not mean you need to leave. That’s just the first step in the process. 
  • Your landlord then has to file what’s called a “petition seeking eviction” in court, and officially serve it to you.
  • Normally, you are supposed to appear in court within 14 days to respond to the petition and get an official court date. During COVID, however, you can just call the number on your petition instead of showing up in person.
  • Once you answer the petition, you’ll be assigned a court date. But the day may not be for months since there are so many cases to process. 

If you had an eviction case and your first court date was scheduled after March 17 OR your case was filed after March 17:

  • You will get a letter in the mail letting you know when your new court date is and how to appear virtually.
  • The court is moving slowly, so the date may not be for a while.
  • If you miss your court appearance, you won’t be placed in default. But defaults could start again as soon as Nov. 3, according to an executive order from Cuomo that has been extended each month of the pandemic.
  • You may qualify for a free attorney. You can call 311 or the Housing Court Answers hotline at 212-962-4795 to connect with legal help. 

If you have an old eviction case that went to court before March:

  • When you get your motion from the court in the mail, call in before or appear in court on the correct date, and the court can connect you to an attorney. 
  • The NYC Office of Civil Justice is providing access to free attorneys to tenants with pre-COVID judgements that put them at risk for eviction. The attorneys are through providers that are part of the Right to Counsel program, even if the tenant wouldn’t typically qualify for the program.
  • You may be covered by added protection from Cuomo’s latest executive order that extends to some cases filed before March.
People enjoy the view in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Oct. 27, 2020. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The bottom line…

“Nobody who doesn’t have a current case is going to be evicted anytime soon for not paying rent,” Schiff said.

If you are facing eviction, La Mort advises finding a lawyer to help you get through the confusing process. 

You can call 311 or the Housing Court Answers hotline at 212-962-4795 to connect with legal help. 

What else we’re reading…

Still have questions? Let us know…

If you’re facing eviction now or are worried about one and want to tell us about it, fill out this questionnaire.

For more renting and tenant resources, here’s what folks from The Open Newsroom shared. If you see something we should include, tell us.

In future updates, we’ll share information on what we’ve heard about negotiating with landlords, dealing with repair issues in your apartment as well as tenant harassment.

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