Scores of New York City tenants with Section 8 rental vouchers are facing eviction following a state court decision allowing landlords to exit the subsidy program.
In the past, tenants using vouchers to pay for rent-stabilized apartments could stay in their apartments indefinitely. New York State law requires that whenever a stabilized lease is renewed, it carries all the same terms and conditions as before. As long as a tenant was still eligible for Section 8, the landlord would have to accept it.
But many landlords want out of that obligation so they can seek higher rents or simply avoid administrative burdens. And they may now have the law on their side.
In 2002, two Westchester court cases found that once a tenant’s lease ended, his or her landlord could opt out of the Section 8 program. The state Division of Housing and Community Renewal issued an opinion backing up the courts.
Since then, local lawyers say, a growing number of landlords have tried to evict Section 8 tenants as their leases expire. Nancy Duran, a single mother of three, received a letter from her landlord, Moses Podolski, last April that stated simply: “Dear Tenant, Please be advised that the landlord, pursuant to the law has chosen not to renew your current Section 8 lease.”
Duran, who had lived in her Bronx apartment for 18 years, was despondent. Her only income comes from her son, who pays her to care for his toddler. Section 8 caps her portion of the rent at one-third of her income, so she pays $91 out of the total $736, with her voucher covering the difference. Without it, she said, she couldn’t pay the rent—and she couldn’t afford a comparable apartment elsewhere.
“I never created any problems for him, never not paid him rent,” she said. “He has no reason to do what he’s doing now.” Despite her pleas, Podolski rejected the Section 8 payments, and moved to evict her. The case, and many like it, are now pending in Housing Court. Podolski could not be reached for comment. His lawyer, Andrea Zinno, did not return calls by press time.
Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel for the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group, says many of his members are fed up with Section 8. While the city has been responsive to some of their concerns, he says, others persist. “We want to see this program work,” he said. “It’s only because the bureaucracy in place has been so burdensome and costly that owners feel that they have to walk away.”
The New York City Housing Authority, which oversees most of the city’s 88,000 Section 8 households, considers these evictions illegal, according to a July 2003 memo from Gregory Kern, director of the agency’s Leased Housing Department. “Section 8 landlords in New York City are not entitled to follow the DHCR and Westchester court opinions,” he wrote.
But NYCHA may not be able to stop them. The city’s tenant lawyers say the Westchester cases have unleashed a trickle of evictions that could easily become a flood. To help prevent that, City Councilmember Bill DiBlasio introduced legislation on February 26 banning discrimination against tenants based on source of income. He expects to hold hearings on the bill by June.
Meanwhile, Judith Goldiner, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, has filed a case in New York’s Southern District federal court to enforce a 1995 ruling that found that tenants could not be held responsible for NYCHA’s portion of their rent. “I feel like we have a great argument,” she said. “We’re right on the law, we’re right on the facts, we’re right morally. We should win—but that doesn’t always happen.”