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What ‘Cancel Rent’ Means to NYC Homeowners and Small Landlords

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.

Landlord Surya Hariprasad sits outside her Bronx building, Oct. 15, 2020.
Bronx homeowner Surya Davie Hariprasad got a loan from the Center for NYC Neighborhoods during the coronavirus pandemic, Oct. 15, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

We started our updates on renting in New York City to help tenants navigate housing challenges during the pandemic. But know that tenants aren’t the only New Yorkers struggling with housing.

Dozens of homeowners and owners of small buildings have reached out to THE CITY with questions about how to stay afloat and keep their properties when rent isn’t coming in and work is hard to find.

So we asked around about what relief is available for homeowners, what “canceling rent” would mean for them and who they might call for help.

First, in case you missed it...

We wrote about how the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium offers some help to homeowners and owners of 10 or fewer units in our last update. The bill protects homeowners and small landlords from mortgage or tax foreclosure until May 1 if they fill out a hardship declaration form. The measure prevents landlords from evicting their tenants if the tenant fills out and gives them this form.

But one important catch: New York’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium doesn’t cancel rent or mortgages, and it doesn’t offer direct financial relief to homeowners or renters. Everyone is still on the hook for what they owe.

What it all means for homeowners

The moratorium is temporary relief, and the big question is what happens when this ban is lifted. There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety,” said Yangchen Chadotsang, a housing preservation program manager at Chhaya Community Development Corporation, a community organization that supports both tenants and homeowners.

While mortgage troubles are generally the biggest concern for homeowners, Chadotsang said other expenses like utilities, repairs and taxes are adding up, too. And there is little to no relief for them.

Chadotsang said: “There’s nothing at this point in time that I can direct my small homeowners to besides small loans that are available here and there. There isn’t anything they can turn to for help. How do we sustain this homeownership if we don’t have any kind of relief?”

Without a government relief fund for homeowners, Rene Arlain, a housing counselor at Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, said that his organization has been able to get some limited private grants to be able to assist people with costs during the pandemic, but it’s not always enough.

Housing counselors at neighborhood-based organizations may have some similar resources available, but there are noguarantees.

Arlain said: “We’ve helped folks with grants for things like food for their families.”

There’s a big difference between the financial situations of a homeowner who rents out a unit versus a larger corporate landlord, Chadotsang said, adding that the plight of many renters and homeowners is intertwined.

Chadotsang said: “If a small homeowner loses the rent, eventually the homeowner as well as the renter loses the home, and there are two families that are displaced: the homeowner and the renter.”

Efforts like New York’s rent relief program were intended to help both tenants and landlords by helping cover partial rent expenses. But the program has yet to distribute all of its $100 million of aid, which would cover only a fraction of the state’s estimated $3.4 billion rent shortfall.

So where does that leave us?

New York’s tenant movement is pushing for a state bill that would create a hardship fund for homeowners and some small landlords, often referred to as the “cancel rent bill.” Homeowner and tenant organizers are working together to educate more owners about the bill, but it’s still unclear how much traction it will get in Albany.

Al Scott, a homeowner and president of the East New York Community Land Trust Initiative, said: “People get scared when they hear ‘cancel rent,’ but the thing we have in common is whether you call it eviction or you call it foreclosure, that’s a form of displacement. Don’t let them separate us.”

So there are a lot of things in the works, but nothing concrete. Here’s what we know:

  • Housing advocates are calling for the state and federal governments to provide more financial assistance to renters and homeowners.
  • The latest federal stimulus package provides $1.3 billion to New York for rent assistance, which could end up helping homeowners with tenants.
  • President Joe Biden has stated intentions to extend eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, but it’s unclear what the administration’s plans are for renter or homeowner relief.

What help is available for homeowners right now?

It’s a hodgepodge, but here’s what we found:

Mortgage forbearance

Homeowners can set up mortgage forbearance plans to postpone payments. The plans depend on your lender or servicer, and you have to set up any arrangement directly with them. If you worked out a forbearance plan earlier in the pandemic that is set to expire, you may be able to extend it.

Arlain and Chadotsang said they and other housing counselors can help homeowners negotiate forbearance agreements with their lenders.

You can look here to find a certified housing counselor near you, or call the Center for New York City Neighborhoods homeowner helpline at 646-786-0888.

A reminder from Arlain: “If you are able to make your payments, do so. Forbearance doesn’t mean forgiveness.”

Tax payment plans

If you’re behind on your property taxes, you can set up a payment plan with the city’s Department of Finance. As part of the state’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium, you can’t have your tax debt sold as a tax lien until at least May 1 (the city doesn’t have a sale scheduled yet for 2021), but your tax bills are still due.

If you have questions about property tax payment plans, you can call the DOF’s Ombudsman at 212-440-5408.

If you have questions about water payment plans, call the city’s Department of Environmental Protection at 718-595-7000.

Loans

Loans up to $10,000 for New Yorkers whose incomes qualify and are at risk of losing their homes because of COVID-19 are available through the Housing Stability Loan Program, The program is run by the Center for New York City Neighborhoods with money from Citi Community Investing and Development.

Call the Center for New York City Neighborhoods at 646-786-0888 for more information.

One-shot deal

Both homeowners and tenants can apply for cash assistance to help with emergency expenses — often referred to as a one-shot deal — through the city’s Human Resources Administration online here or by calling 718-557-1399.

Rent relief

The state re-opened its application window for rent assistance for the months of April through July 2020. Tenants can apply until Feb. 1 here. Tenants do not need to reapply if they already applied the first time. This helps homeowners with tenants because it would go straight to the landlord to cover partial back rent.

Mediation

New York City has a free mediation program for landlords and tenants to try to resolve disputes and come up with agreements that meet everyone’s needs. Mediators act as a neutral third party to facilitate discussion between landlords and tenants.

Nick Schmitt, a program manager at New York Peace Institute, the group that provides mediation in Brooklyn and Manhattan said: “We have conversations around what’s going on, what can be done and what can’t be done. There’s a limited amount of money out there, so a lot of our work is also around adjusting expectations.”

Schmitt noted mediators don’t take sides and don’t tell people what to, but the process often works best if the people involved have had a good past relationship and are both open to having hard conversations. Mediators aren’t necessarily lawyers, and some situations will require legal advice, he said.

Legal support

If you have a question about Housing Court or a specific legal question (like if you believe your tenant falls into the exception of the eviction moratorium because they are causing harm to others) you can call the nonprofit Housing Court Answers at 212-962-4795 for guidance. Or call 311 and ask for the tenant helpline.

Housing counseling

If you want support or guidance as you try to keep your home during the pandemic, housing counselors may be able to help in a variety of ways, including talking with a lender on your behalf, helping you apply for programs and connecting you to other services.

You can call the Center for New York City Neighborhoods homeowner helpline at 646-786-0888 or find a certified housing counselor near you here.

A for-rent sign in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
A for-rent sign in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, April 7, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

What else we’re reading:

  • THE CITY reported on whether more relief for New Yorkers will come from the state or federal government — and on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s threat to tax the rich to fill the budget gap.
  • Gothamist also reported on New York’s need for aid from Washington.
  • City Limits wrote about how little Cuomo had to say about housing relief in his State of the State address earlier this month.
  • THE CITY reported on pervasive unemployment as New York heads for what one economist called a “second-wave slowdown.”

Questions?

For homeowners: 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 or reply to this email.

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 or just reply to this email.

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