Advocates say the eviction moratorium should also cover housing court cases filed prior to the start of the pandemic: ‘No one should have to fight to save their home during a pandemic. There is no good venue in which eviction cases can move forward.’
Despite an extension of the state’s eviction moratorium until October 1, advocates say eviction cases filed prior to the beginning of the pandemic will continue in court proceedings—pushing tenants onto the streets during a global health crisis.
The New York State Office of Court Administration issued guidance for housing court proceedings on Aug. 13. Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would extend the eviction moratorium until Sept. 5, but in a court memorandum, Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts Lawrence Marks further extended it until Oct. 1 for cases filed on or after March 17. The moratorium applies to cases for both residential and commercial properties.
While housing advocacy groups such as the Right to Counsel NYC and Housing Justice for All say the extension will bring some relief to tenants facing possible eviction, they say the state courts and legislature could go further by pausing all eviction proceedings, including those filed before the pandemic’s start.
“Unfortunately the order also mandates that eviction cases filed on or before March 16 should move forward, either virtually or in person. We condemn the court’s decision to move these cases forward. Evictions are not just about the final result of a case but also about the stress and anxiety of fighting to save one’s home. No one should have to fight to save their home during a pandemic,” both groups said in a joint press statement.
“There is no good venue in which eviction cases can move forward. In person hearings require that tenants risk their health to save their homes and virtual proceedings require tenants to give up their due process rights to save their homes.”
One of the major reasons advocates oppose virtual hearings is because they are not public, which all court appearances and decisions have traditionally been, according to Susanna Blankley, the coalition coordinator for the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition.
Housing advocacy groups also want three pieces of legislation to pass, including S8667, introduced by Brooklyn Sen. Zellnor Myrie, which would extend the eviction and foreclosure moratorium until the “end of the state of emergency in the state of New York plus one full year.”
The bill would prohibit the enforcement of an eviction of any residential or commercial tenant during that period. It would also prohibit the issuance of a judgment of possession, an order from a judge that favors the landlord, against a residential, commercial or other lawful tenant, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for the covered period. This bill is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.
Advocates are also calling for passage of the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020, sponsored by Brooklyn State Sen. Julia Salazar and co-sponsored by Queens State Sen. Michael Gianaris, which would provide relief from housing payments for renters and small homeowners during the COVID-19 public state of emergency, and until 90 days after the state of emergency ends. The bill would also authorize financial assistance for residential co-ops, affordable-housing providers or landlords who can demonstrate COVID-19-related hardship. The bill was recently introduced to the State Assembly by Manhattan Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, and observers expect it to reach the State Senate floor during the brief July legislative session.
The third bill, S7628A, was introduced by Brooklyn and Manhattan State Sen. Brian Kavanagh. It would provide housing vouchers for eligible individuals and families who are homeless, or who face an imminent loss of housing. The state’s Housing Trust Fund Corporation would oversee the program, which would begin October 1, and state and local public housing agencies would administer it. This bill is currently in the Senate Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee, which is also chaired by Kavanagh.
According to the court memorandum, residential eviction cases filed before March 17, including those cases where a warrant of eviction has been issued but not executed, must hold a conference with a judge before any further action is taken, and new or outstanding residential warrants of eviction may be executed after Oct. 1.
At such conferences, the court would review the case and confirm compliance with notice requirements. The court would also inquire if there has been any coronavirus-related impact upon the parties involved, and review “any special relief under state or federal law to which the parties may be entitled in light of the pandemic, including the New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act.” The New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act prohibits courts from evicting residential tenants who have faced financial hardship for non-payment of rent, due or accrued, during the COVID-19 period.
Any parties without legal representation would be referred to local civil legal service providers and housing counseling agencies.
For commercial evictions filed before March 17, cases may proceed without a conference with a judge. All cases can be either in-person or virtual, and “if the court directs an eviction to proceed following the conference, the eviction shall be scheduled or rescheduled to take place no sooner than October 1, 2020.”
According to the State Office of Court Administration, New York City housing court cases are underway for in‐person bench trials in cases filed prior to the pandemic in Brooklyn and Staten Island. Trials are set to start in early September for Manhattan and Queens, and on Sept. 15 in the Bronx.