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New York’s New Eviction Moratorium Protections Are Not Automatic. Here’s What You Need to Do

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.

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Sonny Singh addresses the crowd as members of the Crown Heights Tenants Union hold a banner outside 70 South Elliott Place in Brooklyn, Sept. 11, 2020.

Peter Senzamici/THE CITY

New York passed one of the nation’s most comprehensive eviction moratorium bills during the Legislature’s special year-end session. But it turns out the protections for tenants — and some property owners — aren’t automatic.

Here’s what you need to know — and do.

Some quick background

Nearly all eviction and foreclosure proceedings in New York are suspended until Feb. 26, with the potential for most to stay on hold until May 1 if the tenant fills out a form indicating they’ve experienced financial hardship or face health risks because of the pandemic. 

That means almost all pending and ongoing cases are paused, and pretty much no new cases can be started for now. The only exceptions are for so-called nuisance holdovers, in which a landlord convinces the judge that the tenant is a hazard to other residents.

One very important action step

Eviction moratorium protection is not automatic. 

You need to fill out a form from the courts called a hardship declaration. Get it to your landlord or an agent of your landlord to prevent them from evicting you — or to Housing Court in your borough if you already have a pending case. 

You can also present the form directly to a marshal if you already have a warrant for eviction issued against you.

If you have a pending case, the state Office of Court Administration will send you a copy of the declaration. But if you’d rather not wait, you can fill it out now.

You can find the form here in English and Spanish. Versions in seven languages are expected to be available here by Jan 11.

Here’s what Adam Meyers, director of litigation for Communities Resist, had to say about the bill: “It’s extremely helpful, and it’s a desperately needed measure to prevent this forthcoming tidal wave of evictions that we’re all worried about.”

Marika Dias, director of the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center, said: “It’s obviously going to be helpful to a lot of tenants. But it’s not a real eviction moratorium, which would be a blanket protection… . It requires tenants to take a step to access the protection, which always makes it likely folks will slip through the cracks.”

Leo Goldberg, senior policy and research manager at the Center for New York City Neighborhoods, said: “It’s painting with a broad brush to capture a lot of people with a lot of different situations, which is helpful for right now because people are in financial trouble for a range of different reasons. This is much more accommodating with the range of challenges people are facing than past policies.”

An important note

The bill also requires that landlords attach a blank copy of the hardship declaration form when they demand rent or file a petition for eviction

If your landlord doesn’t provide you a copy of the declaration, keep record of exactly what documents you receive, how you receive them and when you receive them, Meyers said. This evidence could help your case later, he added. 

Under this new moratorium, the courts assume that tenants are telling the truth on this declaration form. (Keep in mind that a tenant signs the form under “penalty of law,” which means there can be legal consequences for lying.) Instead of the burden being on the tenant to prove in court that they qualify for protection, the burden is now on the landlord to show the court that a tenant does not qualify.

 The definition of hardship is broader than past executive orders — and broader than the requirements for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium that expires Jan. 31. The eligibility criteria go beyond lost income and account for challenges like added childcare expenses.

Some tips: Keep a copy of the form that you file. And if you’re not sure if you can truthfully fill out and sign the form, it might be a good idea to talk to a tenant attorney. You can call 311 and ask for the tenant helpline. 

If you’re a homeowner or small landlord

The new law also puts residential foreclosure proceedings on hold and prevents new ones from being filed until Feb. 26, with the potential to put them off until May 1 if the owner fills out a hardship declaration form. The measure covers both mortgage and tax foreclosures, as well as tax lien sales for past tax debt. The only exception is for vacant or abandoned property.

The protection for homeowners encompasses a wide variety of hardships, including if a tenant has lost income and can’t pay rent. To qualify for these protections, you can fill out the hardship declaration form here in English or Spanish

For mortgage foreclosure prevention, you send the form directly to your servicer.

We’ll let you know when we know more about the process for tax foreclosure and lien sale prevention in NYC. 

The bill also protects property owners from negative credit reporting if they have fallen behind on mortgage payments. 

Tenant rights organizers rally at City Hall before a vote on the Right to Counsel bill, Feb. 24, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Here’s what the new bill doesn’t do

The bill doesn’t cancel rent, and it doesn’t offer mortgage forbearance, rent relief or any other assistance to help owners with expenses. Tenants and owners are still responsible for their payments and debt. Everything is just on pause.

Meyers said: “While it’s a critically needed measure, it doesn’t solve the problem. It’s another thing that basically kicks the can down the road. In order to really solve this problem, we need to address the actual debt.”

What happens next?

In some ways, the new law is buying time for the state and federal government to figure out what to do about New York’s massive and growing estimated $3.4 billion rent debt.

Goldberg said: “This isn’t the last action that the state is going to need to take on housing.” 

It’s unclear what additional action — if any — will be taken in the new year, but here are some points to keep in mind:

  • New York State has $1.3 billion of federal money earmarked for rent assistance.
  • The state Legislature will soon convene a new session where Democrats will have a potentially veto-proof “supermajority.” 
  • A new federal administration is set to take office Jan. 20.

What else we’re reading

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.

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