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Some of the pandemic-prompted rules concerning evictions in New York changed again this week — spurring potential confusion for both tenants and landlords.

Here’s what you need to know:

What’s going on with evictions?

First things first: Eviction cases are starting to work their way through Housing Court. 

But tenants should know that just because a landlord tells you to move out does NOT necessarily mean you’re being evicted. Eviction is a legal process that needs to happen in court. As a tenant, you have the right to stay in your home as that legal process unfolds.

The guidance for tenants who have been sued by their landlord for not paying rent during the pandemic has been in a swirl of flux. We’ve had a week of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders about evictions expiring followed by new ones being issued.

The bottom line

If your landlord has filed a petition for eviction against you for nonpayment anytime starting June 22, 2020 (when Housing Court reopened), you DO need to answer that petition, even if the court or your landlord has told you otherwise. If you don’t answer that petition, you could lose your eviction case without ever having your day in court due to what is called a default judgment. 

A default judgment happens when a tenant doesn’t respond to the court about their landlord’s petition to evict them. When a judge makes this ruling on a case for nonpayment, they can issue an eviction warrant without holding a hearing — meaning you aren’t involved in the decision. After that, a marshal serves the tenant the official notice of eviction, which can be very difficult to reverse.

Key question: When was the petition filed?

If the petition was filed ON or AFTER Nov. 3: You need to answer the petition WITHIN 10 DAYS of when it was served.

If the petition was filed anytime BEFORE Nov. 3: you need to answer the petition by Jan. 2, 2021, per a new order from Cuomo. 

Tenants who had petitions filed against them before Nov. 3 get more time to answer. That’s because the court had previously said they would have more time due to COVID-related concerns at courthouses. But this led to nearly 15,000 tenants not answering their petitions, putting them at risk of automatic default starting Nov 3.

Here’s what Ellen Davidson, tenant attorney with The Legal Aid Society said: “This tries to address the problem that there are tenants out there who failed to answer because the courts told them not to, and when the courts changed the policy, they failed to tell the tenants that the policy had changed.”

Here’s what Lucian Chalfen, spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration said: “We made landlords send that out with their petitions, but it was never meant to be interpreted as saying that tenants didn’t ever have to answer the petition or that we assumed responsibility for telling every tenant when they had to answer.”

What should you do?

If you received a petition: You can answer it by calling the courts at one of the numbers below or you can go to Housing Court in person. You should call the number associated with the borough where you received the petition.

  • Manhattan: 646-386-5505
  • Bronx: 718-466-3000
  • Brooklyn: 347-404-9201
  • Queens: 718-262-7300
  • Staten Island: 718-676-8455

To understand what you need to do if your landlord is trying to evict you for not paying rent, you can call 311 and ask for the tenant helpline. You can also connect with a tenant union. Check out our resource guide or email if you need help finding one in your neighborhood.

People enjoy the view in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Oct. 27, 2020. Credit: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

What else we’re reading…

THE CITY reported a slate of new class-action lawsuits accusing some Brooklyn landlords who took big tax breaks of skirting rent stabilization rules.  

THE CITY also revealed that people’s belongings in storage units are being auctioned off, which prompted some leaders to act.

THE CITY looked at how some local businesses are faring amid the hold on commercial evictions.

Brooklyn residents want to guarantee NYCHA improvements are part of the deal to rezone Gowanus, according to City Limits.

Any questions?

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