A COVID-19 emergency eviction moratorium expiring Tuesday is all but certain to get approval from the state legislature this week for an extension through early 2022, sources within the state Legislature told THE CITY.
Lawmakers around the state will be headed back to Albany as early as Wednesday for a rare off-season legislative session to pass a new proposal extending New York’s eviction moratorium. The state of emergency that was declared at the onset of the pandemic in March 2020, which allowed then-governor Andrew Cuomo to issue orders like the moratorium without legislative input, expired in late June.
More than 830,000 tenants throughout the state are behind on rent and could face eviction without protective policies, according to an analysis of census data by the National Equity Atlas, a nonprofit that studies racial and economic disparities.
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday said she was in discussions with the legislative leaders and their staff “to address how best to deliver relief to renters and homeowners in need as quickly as possible,” opening up the potential for a special legislative session.
The governor issued her statement after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal eviction moratorium, and the justices had already invalidated a key component of New York’s eviction freeze weeks earlier.
A version of the moratorium signed into law in late 2020 allowed tenants to head off eviction actions simply by filing a so-called hardship declaration asserting they are unable to pay rent. But landlords pushed back, saying they had no opportunity to contest tenants’ claims, and in an unsigned order the Supreme Court agreed.
People familiar with the matter say legislative leaders and the Hochul administration are now looking to adjust the New York program to give landlords a way to contest hardship claims in court, quelling concerns raised by the Supreme Court.
Tenant attorneys are hopeful that Albany leaders can find a path that will survive any legal challenges from landlords.
“I think that creating a mechanism to allow a landlord to challenge a hardship declaration would address the concerns that the Supreme Court expressed,” said Ellen Davidson, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society. “I don’t know exactly how the Legislature is thinking about doing it but it should be relatively simple.”
A landlord group that was a plaintiff in the case that prompted the Supreme Court decision on New York’s moratorium threatened legal action if the new law falls short of the Supreme Court’s stand.
Said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association: “Make no mistake, we will challenge any attempt by lawmakers to legislate an eviction moratorium that is contrary to the SCOTUS decision.”
‘Not Solving Any Problems’
The fine details of the new proposal remain under negotiation. But a halt on evictions is expected for until at least mid-January, when state lawmakers are slated to reconvene for the 2022 legislative session.
That would get tenants past the holiday season — a time of year when of COVID-19 cases could spike, as they did in 2020.
But extending the stay on evictions is “not solving any problems,” said Jay Martin, the executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a group that represents mostly small and mid-sized landlords. “It’s just temporarily delaying them.”
New York has had a COVID eviction moratorium in some form since March 2020, initially through executive orders from Cuomo. In December, the state Legislature passed a moratorium law, signed by Cuomo, that allowed the hardship declaration to suffice to stave off eviction.
Meanwhile, tenants and landlords alike are resting hopes on a $2.7 billion federally funded relief program whose aid has been slow to arrive since applications opened in June.
As of August 23, the state has paid out just over $200 million in rent relief funds, just 7% of the $2.7 billion for the program, and with more than $600 million pending final approval to qualifying tenants and landlords.
Tenants who apply for the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) are protected from eviction while their applications are being processed, and if they’re approved, they are protected from eviction for a year. These protections apply even if landlords choose not to participate in the program and accept the relief funds they’re entitled to.
On her first day as governor, Hochul vowed to expedite the distribution of rent relief funds and to iron out ongoing kinks in the application process that have made it difficult for some tenants and landlords to access the aid, ordering that the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance spend an additional $1 million in marketing and outreach efforts to raise awareness for the program.
Fixing the program remains one of the few places where landlords and tenant advocates find common ground. Both Martin and Davidson agree that more resources are needed on an educational campaign to alert New Yorkers about the rental assistance program.
Previously in New York City, 12 organizations were tapped by the city to get a cut of $64 million from the state to do community outreach and provide application assistance, but most of those contracts were just confirmed in late July even though the program opened on June 1.
“In New York City, various communities have different ways of communicating and there are certain publications if you want to reach certain communities, or you may use radio for some people or certain television stations for others,” Davidson said.
“Part of what’s been challenging is that there hasn’t been a lot of data. So it’s a little hard to see who’s missing,” she added. “Once we can figure out who’s missing, we can then target outreach toward those communities.”