Sen. Michael Gianaris

NYS Senate

Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens

The author of a proposed law to erase rents for New Yorkers hurt by the COVID-19 crisis said Wednesday he believes the state will move to protect tenants. It’s just clear how or when.

“I want to see action taken now and I’ve asked the governor to do this by executive order since we’re not in session at this point,” Queens’ Michael Gianaris, the deputy leader of the Democratic majority in the Senate, told the WBAI Max & Murphy Show. I am confident we’ll get somewhere on it. We just need to figure out exactly where we land.”

Gianaris’s bill stipulates that “any residential tenant or small business commercial tenant in the state that has lost income or has been forced to close their place of business as a result of government ordered restrictions in response to the outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), shall have all rent payments suspended for 90 days following the effective date of this act.”

Under the law, the waived rent would never be charged, nor would any late fees. Leases that lapse during the 90 days would automatically renew. The law would also mandate forgiveness of mortgage payments by landlords who face “financial hardship” as a result of the rent cancellation.

According to Gianaris’s office, support for the bill is overwhelming: Comments on the bill via the State Senate website were so voluminous, he says, they nearly crashed the server (although not all of the remarks supported the bill). National figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden have followed local leaders like Comptroller Scott Stringer and Council Speaker Corey Johnson in backing the measure.

The rationale behind the bill is that the 90-day eviction moratorium that Gov. Cuomo declared early in the crisis does not provide robust enough protection for tenants because any unpaid rent would be due at the end of the 90-day period. Amid widespread unemployment, the bill’s supporters argue, many tenants will be no more capable of paying April’s rent in July than they would have been in April.

“The government effectively pulled the plug on the economy. We had to do it for obvious reasons but we denied people their income stream and they continue to have their financial obligations accrue in the form of rent and that doesn’t make any sense at all,” Gianaris said. “If the government is saying you can’t work, you can’t make money to people that live paycheck to paycheck and all of a sudden no longer have a paycheck, we cannot realistically expect them to continue to pay rent and other obligations in that time.” 

Some landlords have countered that unemployment benefits ought to provide most people with the means to pay for necessities. But not everyone is eligible for those benefits, there could be delays in accessing them and the payment amounts could fall short of what’s needed to pay rent and buy essentials.

Property owners’ other concern is that eliminating rental payments could impair their ability to stay solvent. “No rent from tenants would mean property owners can’t pay the web of people and companies who are connected to them,” a user identified as John Pire commented on the State Senate website. “Property maintenance staff and maintenance related vendors can’t be paid, the products they use sit on the shelf: These industries would be destroyed and the people they employ would out of work, if not already.”

Gianaris contends that his bill goes further than federal measures that permit landlords’ mortgage payments to be deferred (which likely means those amounts would be tacked on to the end of the mortgage). His measure would actually cancel mortgage payments in proportion to income lost because of rent cancellation. However, the state can only demand such forgiveness for mortgages held by banks regulated at the state level.

“The bill I proposed includes straight-up mortgage forgiveness for the three-month period,” he said. “We can only do that for people as it relates to mortgages in state-chartered banks.”

The way Gianaris frames it, the question isn’t whether or not many tenants are going to stop paying rent, but whether they face a hard or soft landing after doing so.

“Just to be clear, the rent is being canceled, whether we authorize it by law or not. There was a report that one-third of the rents across the entire nation wasn’t paid in April,” he said. “So, we’re either going to face a mass wave of evictions in 90 days or we can set up some structure to make sure that people are safe and continue to have homes.” 

Listen to our conversation below, or hear the full program, which includes an interview with former New York City health commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett about social disparities and the COVID-19 toll.


Sen. Michael Gianaris on ‘#CancelRent’ and Bail Reform


Max & Murphy: Full Show of April 15, 2020

Max & Murphy is heard every Wednesday at 5 p.m. on WBAI, 99.5 FM. Ben Max is the co-host, Reggie Johnson the engineer and Anika Chowdhury the intern.

10 thoughts on “Democratic Leader: ‘The Rent is Being Canceled, Whether we Authorize it or Not’

  1. The Bill just transfers the costs to Landlords. This will force out private two family homeowner landlords. We are not all corporations. Protection from eviction is enough. Unfortunately many tenants told they don’t have to pay rent will see it as found money and splurge. Instead give them vouchers to cover part. As long as landlord still has to pay property and school tax, Utilities it is not fair. They will just increase foreclosures and both the landlord and tenant will be forced to move.

    • For smaller homes or buildings they can refund property taxes to counteract the lost rent income or something along those lines can be done. If a tenant can’t pay they just can’t and you’re not getting the money anyway so it’s better to figure out a way to help both parties. There has to be a way

  2. Another concern: how many cases can the courts handle? NYC Housing Court, especially in some boroughs, was a busy, crowded, chaotic place before this crisis. Whenever, things open up, there will be a backlog of adjourned cases and a deluge of new filings. Presumably, there will be some degree of social distancing required, so there needs to be a plan to deal with the caseload there (and in the other courts as well).

    • Agree. They are already requesting lawyers to do probono work. My morning news just said that they need 100’s of lawyers for “Covid related cases”. Not sure what that includes

  3. This is so irresponsible.
    Let’s be clear – with the huge number of people thrown out of work, we definitely need to
    HELP THEM PAY THE RENT. Not cancel the rent. There are existing programs such as HPD’s “One-Shot” that help tenants pay the rent when one-time circumstances arise and they can’t. The answer is to revise existing programs to help pay the rent, not make irresponsible statements such as “cancel the rent”.
    What about insurance, staff, real estate taxes, water bills that landlords have to pay? Do you not want the supers to get paid?
    This is a huge precedent to ignore legally binding contracts – rental contracts, insurance contracts, mortgage obligations, etc. that the state doesn’t have the authority to undo.

  4. Gianaris’s bill should also forgive any real estate taxes and water and sewer charges due so that government also shares in the misery .

  5. I was reading an article about this subject and in it a tenants’ lawyer’s first advise was if you have the rent pay it. Simple.

    If 20%-30% have lost their income then 70%-80% haven’t then a split decision might help
    all.

    If your intent is anarchy forget this comment.

  6. If there is Rent forgiveness there also needs to be forgiveness on property taxes, insurance and all other things. The State and federal government forced this shutdown which put people in this precarious situation of possibly losing their home. If Tenants are protected all should be protected.

    I say a 6 month forgiveness on all water bills, insurance, taxes and rent should help all.

  7. another example of a politician being generous with someone elses` money. Its called an unfunded mandate. Tenants can live free and landlords can take the loss.

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