cuomo briefing

Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuom

Gov. Cuomo gives a briefing on May 11.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that he would extend the “moratorium on COVID-related residential or commercial evictions” for an additional 60 days until August 20th. 

However, tenant and housing advocacy groups say the fine print of that order will allow for eviction proceedings to move forward through the New York courts e-filing system, increasing the burden of proof on tenants to show they could not pay rent because of COVID-19 related financial hardship.

Rather than keeping the moratorium on evictions as it had been in place since March 20th, the governor’s new moratorium, several groups argue, will put tens of thousands of New Yorkers at risk. 

The March 20 executive order said, “There shall be no enforcement of either an eviction of any tenant residential or commercial, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for a period of ninety days.”

The one issued by the governor last week used different wording: “There shall be no initiation of a proceeding or enforcement of either an eviction of any residential or commercial tenant, for nonpayment of rent or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial mortgage, for nonpayment of such mortgage, owned or rented by someone that is eligible for unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law or otherwise facing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic for a period of sixty days beginning on June 20, 2020.”

The new eviction moratorium also included new measures to protect tenants: Under one provision, landlords will not be entitled to late fees during the course of the moratorium. Under another, renters facing hardship can enter into a written agreement with their landlords to use their security deposits toward their rent.

However, the Right to Counsel Coalition on Monday voiced concerns about the burden of proof the new order creates.

“This order puts the onus on tenants to show they are entitled to not be sued or evicted. This means thousands of tenants will still be sued in non-payment eviction cases and they will have to face intrusive inquiries into all their personal financial information, just to get dismissal of an eviction case that should never have been brought in the first place,” the group said in a statement. “Many tenants who have currently suspended eviction warrants are at great risk of being evicted come June 20th, because they won’t know how to stop the eviction, even if they do qualify for the moratorium.”

Advocates say the criteria added to the moratorium not only introduce greater risk of eviction for those who don’t qualify, but also could sew confusion about tenants’ rights, which landlords can exploit.

“The governor’s recent so-called extension of the eviction moratorium opens the door to the potential eviction of thousands of New York City tenants,” Raun Rasmussen, the executive director of Legal Services NYC, said in a statement, “at the precise moment when they are most in need protection from losing their homes.”

Rasmussen added that New York needs “solutions that keep tenants in their homes and out of court during the COVID-19 crisis.” He said Cuomo’s moratorium extension is instead, “a confusing order that will increase fear and potentially start a flood of new evictions at a time when courts, tenants and their advocates need to keep doing all we can to protect against the spread of the virus.”

Marika Dias, managing director of the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project, says there are two key categories of tenants that are not covered under the new eviction moratorium: tenants who were being evicted for anything that doesn’t relate to nonpayment of rent (also known as holdover cases) and tenants unable to show that they have faced a financial impact due to COVID-19. 

Another issue, Dias says, is eviction warrants. On June 20th, warrants generated during the moratorium can potentially be executed, which could leave more people without shelter during the worst public health crisis in recent history.