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How to Tell if You’re Being Evicted — and Other Tenant Questions Answered

THE CITY’s Open Newsroom team breaks down some of the latest info about renting in NYC. Sign up for our tenants’ newsletter for the latest updates.

Tenant advocates protest eviction proceedings at Brooklyn housing court, Aug. 6, 2020
Tenant advocates protest looming eviction proceedings at Brooklyn housing court, Aug. 6, 2020
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Over the past few weeks, as we’ve reported on shifting rules in Housing Court, rent relief and evictions, readers have reached out to ask about sticky situations they’re navigating.

This week, we talked to some experts who helped us answer a few common questions we’ve heard from tenants.

First, a follow-up on evictions...

Since last week’s update about the first legal residential eviction in New York City since the pandemic started, there’s been at least one more, Law 360 reported. That second one was another pre-pandemic case that the tenant — who had lived in her home for 20 years — had been fighting since 2017.

This second eviction revealed gaps in who is covered by the existing moratoriums in New York. As the law stands, if a judge decides that a tenant does not make a strong enough case that they are suffering a pandemic-related hardship, they can be evicted.

When the marshals showed up in the most recent case, the Brooklyn apartment was already vacant, according to Tom Bailey, office manager for Marshal Justin Grossman, who carried out the warrant.

Meryl Wenig, the attorney for the landlord in this case, Equity Associates PRD LLC, said: “The moratorium on evictions is related to the pandemic, these evictions are not related to the pandemic. They were for, in this case, for wrongdoings that were done before the pandemic.… While COVID is a horrible thing, this is not the end-all for the court system. The fact that COVID exists should not shut down our judicial system.”

She said her law firm, Wenig & Saltiel LLC, which represents several landlords, has made multiple motions to execute warrants on more evictions.

OK, now to your questions…

What do I do if my landlord is telling me to move out? Is this an eviction?

No, this is NOT an eviction. The only legal way your landlord can make you move out is through the courts. Though some evictions are starting, new cases aren’t moving very quickly.

Marika Dias, a tenant attorney and director of the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center, said: “It’s very important for tenants to understand that under New York law, landlords cannot evict tenants without going through a court process, and tenants have rights to defend themselves in court.”

At least through the end of December, New York has a protection in place called the Tenant Safe Harbor Act that prevents landlords from winning eviction cases if the tenant can prove that they’ve suffered “financial hardship” because of COVID.

Logan Schiff, a tenant attorney for Legal Services NYC said: “In theory, they can’t evict you for arrears accrued during the pandemic.”

Schiff suggested documenting your financial hardship as best as you can, so you can show a judge that you’ve lost income because of COVID.

Even if you think you’re protected by this law, your landlord can still file a case against you in court to start the eviction process.

At the end of the year, both the Tenant Safe Harbor Act and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium expire. If these aren’t extended or no new protections are put in place, all evictions — those filed before AND during the pandemic — will be able to move forward.

So how do I know if my landlord is actually evicting me or just threatening me?

Eviction is a complicated legal process with many steps. The first one is receiving a rent demand letter from your landlord.

Schiff said: “They have to demand the rent owed before they can start a case.”

A rent demand letter will state how much money you owe your landlord. It may say you can be evicted in 14 days. But that doesn’t mean you have to move out in 14 days. It just means that after the 14 days, your landlord can serve you what’s called a petition for eviction.

The petition is the first official document served through the courts, starting your official eviction case. You have to respond to it. We explained how that works in a past update. (It’s also sort of complicated.)

If your landlord has not served you an official petition for eviction from the court, you do not have an actual eviction case against you yet.

Dias said: “If tenants are unsure of their legal position or aren’t sure if they have a case, it may be helpful to speak with a lawyer. Having an attorney on your case will improve the kind of outcome you can have in your case, in terms of preventing an eviction and getting repairs done and enforcing your rights.”

How to find help:

  • 311 has a tenant helpline staffed by housing attorneys and advocates that can connect you to legal services.
  • Housing Court Answers has a hotline for tenants and landlords at 212-962-4795 that can answer questions and connect you to legal services.
  • Met Council on Housing has a tenants’ rights hotline at 212-979-0611.

What if my landlord cut my electricity or my heat to get me to leave?

If your landlord is turning off essential services, especially as a way to push you out, that is harassment and violates your rights as a tenant, according to Dias.

She said that’s grounds for you to start an emergency case against your landlord in Housing Court. These kinds of cases have been able to move through court all throughout the pandemic.

You can start a case against your landlord for harassment or failure to make repairs by using JustFix NYC’s online tool here.

It’s also important to know that the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development is still doing inspections and writing up violations. So if your landlord isn’t providing you basic services or needs to make emergency repairs, you can report those housing maintenance code violations by calling 311.

And if your landlord locks you out, Schiff said to go to Housing Court in your borough and, if you’re able to, file an illegal lockout case right away.

More questions?

For tenants: We get a lot of questions from tenants. We do our best to find answers. Please keep sending your questions, concerns and ideas to opennewsroom@thecity.nyc.

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

For homeowners: We also get a lot of questions from homeowners who rent out a unit or more. We’re working on answering these questions for a future update. If you’re a homeowner who rents to tenants who haven’t been able to pay during the pandemic, we want to hear from you. Email us at opennewsroom@thecity.nyc.

What else we’re reading…

  • On Thanksgiving, News12 reported on Brooklyn tenants protesting their landlord, who allegedly left them without gas to cook with for two months.
  • Bklyner reported that the building owner ranked the city’s worst landlord by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams is threatening to evict tenants for waging a rent strike. Curbed talked with a bunch of the tenants leading the strike.
  • THE CITY revealed that city officials have issued nearly 100 vacate orders for basement apartments and other illegal dwellings during the pandemic, effectively rendering tenants homeless.
  • THE CITY reported that hundreds of city business owners, from clothiers to restaurateurs, are facing lawsuits from landlords over missed rent payments as revenue has all but vanished.

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