The rent regulation war is over for now, but a little noticed clause in the Albany legislation promises to increase evictions of poor tenants all over New York City. Under the new law, which takes effect in October, Housing Court judges will no longer be able to postpone an eviction after submitting a final judgement on a landlord/tenant case.
Once a judge rules that a tenant must pay back rent or leave the apartment, the tenant will have five days to pay the landlord or deposit the money with the court. If they cannot pay up in time, the landlord can immediately evict them.
In the past, tens of thousands of tenants each year have asked judges to delay eviction while they worked to raise the money. Tenants on welfare, who are eligible for large lump sum rent payments of back rent under a court-ordered program called Jiggetts relief, typically need at least 12 weeks to have the check processed after the judge issues an eviction order. And judges, knowing the money is forthcoming, have typically given such tenants the time they need. The same is true of tenants receiving other social service payments or those who can somehow assure the court they will make the payment.
“Say I have a judgement against me for $5,000,” said Scott Sommer, a housing court attorney for Legal Services. “I don’t have the $5,000 yet because I’m waiting for welfare to process my payment. The warrant is about to execute, but I can’t get the stay of the warrent unless I post the $5,000. So how do you post the $5,000 when you’re waiting for it?”
Landlord groups lobbied hard for the provision, which is part of a broader policy requiring tenants to deposit rent with the court while contesting eviction orders. Evictions now take months to process, explained Dan Margulies, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord association. He said the five-day rule will force social service agencies to move more quickly.
But lawyers for the poor counter that no power on earth short of a mayoral edict can force the welfare bureacracy to move in five days. Judges will still have the option of explicitly granting tenants additional time in their final eviction order, Sommer notes. But, he adds, many will not bother unless tenants request it ahead of time. And that is unlikely given that 90 percent of tenants in Housing Court are forced to fight evictions without the aid of a lawyer.
“It can only be seen as a prescription for homelessness creation,” said Legal Aid’s Steve Banks.