Cuomo executive order

On May 7, the governor said he was extending the current eviction moratorium for an additional 60 days. He said “the number one issue that people talk to me about is rent and fear about being able to pay rent. And this just takes that issue off the table until August 20.” Unfortunately, that’s simply not true.

The eviction moratorium that’s currently in place until June 20th is an actual moratorium, or a “temporary prohibition of an activity,” as the word is defined. All evictions are prohibited, for all people, for all reasons. It means that in the middle of an unprecedented public health and economic crisis which has hit New Yorkers the hardest, and poor Black and Brown New Yorkers hardest of all, New Yorkers don’t have to risk their health by going to housing court to save their homes, and they don’t have to worry about being evicted or displaced, for now. It’s not a solution to the housing crisis that COVID-19 has laid bare for all to see, but it’s a welcome reprieve.

That ended with the governor’s announcement on Friday. Despite his public remarks, the actual language of the Executive Order makes it clear that landlords will be free to sue, courts will be open, and thousands of tenants will have to fight their cases in court. Some, who can prove they were financially impacted by COVID-19, will have a right not to be sued or evicted, but they’ll have to fight that in court too, since the Order provides no way to prohibit landlords from initiating a case, which could take months, at which point, the temporary restrictions will be lifted anyway.

Instead of protecting tenants, the order puts the onus on tenants to prove they are entitled to not be sued or evicted. This means large numbers of tenants will still be sued 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.

And what does “financially impacted” by COVID mean anyway? Does it mean you lost your job because your job let you go? Does it mean you quit because it was unsafe for you to work? Does it mean you had increased medical bills or expenses because of COVID? Does it mean you had increased expenses because you had to homeschool your kids or take care of loved ones unexpectedly? How would you prove any or all of that? What if you’re undocumented or work in the informal economy? The answer from Cuomo’s order: Landlords can sue you and the courts can figure it out.

What if you were scheduled to be evicted, but that was put on hold because of the moratorium? You can maybe delay it, if you can figure out how to navigate any of the questions above and the court system, which you’ll have to navigate alone since the Right to Counsel, which gives tenants the right to a lawyer when facing an eviction, isn’t fully implemented in New York City and doesn’t exist outside of the city. If you can’t, you’ll be evicted.

What if you can’t prove financial loss because of COVID, but you lost loved ones to COVID-19 or have been impacted by COVID-19 in another non-financial way? Under the governor’s order, you could be gravely sick with COVID-19, even close to death, and still be evicted.

What if your landlord is suing you for something other than not paying rent, like making too much noise? You can be sued and evicted. If you already had a warrant pending for a case like this, that eviction clock can start ticking on June 20th.

By opening the door to all these new eviction cases and evictions, the new executive order will quickly take us back to overcrowded housing courts and families facing homelessness—both of which are guaranteed to endanger individual and public health.

Cuomo didn’t extend the moratorium, he ended it, outrageously putting all of us at risk.

Susanna Blankley is the Coalition Coordinator for the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition; Marika Dias is the Managing Director of the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project