Tenant advocates say Gov. Cuomo’s extension of the eviction moratorium will permit too many cases to proceed through the courts.

Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Since the beginning of the pandemic, tenant advocates have criticized Gov. Cuomo for not doing enough to halt evictions.

Housing and tenant advocates say the state’s newly extended moratorium on evictions for non-payment announced this week by Governor Andrew Cuomo does not help tenants who are undocumented or work in informal jobs or who are facing other types of evictions, and could also be facing COVID-19 related financial hardship.

The statewide eviction moratorium on COVID-19 related residential evictions has been extended through January 1, 2021; it covers non-payment cases or eviction warrants filed before March 7th for those tenants who can prove pandemic related financial hardships. Cuomo also extended the eviction moratorium for commercial evictions and foreclosures until October 20th.

New York has seen a few different moratoria since the pandemic struck. There was the state court system’s blanket eviction moratorium, which was continuously extended until October 1st — this moratorium protected tenants who had eviction cases against them prior to March 7th or thereafter. Then the governor’s eviction moratorium under an emergency order protected tenants who had faced financial hardships due to the pandemic until June 20th and later that month the Tenant Safe Harbor Act became law. The governor’s order effectively continues the protections conferred by that act.

Advocates say as well-intentioned the state has been in trying to protect tenants, the Tenant Safe Harbor Act and the governor’s order leave out the most vulnerable New York tenants. They want the state to pass a universal eviction moratorium until the economic crisis subsides and the state shows signs of a healthy economic recovery. 

“What the governor’s saying is, ‘If those tenants can show the court that they suffered COVID-19 financial hardship, then based on my executive order, they’re going to be protected from eviction, but just until January 1st.’ And so what the governor’s done is not issue a universal eviction moratorium. It’s not really even a general moratorium,” said Marika Dias, Director of the Urban Justice Center’s Safety Net Project and Steering Committee member of the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition.

It leaves out tenants who are undocumented, those who work in an informal economies like jobs which pay cash only or those tenants who may have other evictions cases like holdover cases. 

Typically, there are two types of eviction cases. The first is the nonpayment of rent and the second is holdover cases which are eviction proceedings due to allegations made by the landlord such as having pets in a building where it is prohibited or a tenant with a expired lease which the landlord does not want to renew. “So it means those folks could actually go ahead and be evicted before January 1st. They’re not protected in any way here. And it also excludes everyone who the [Tenant Safe Harbor Act] didn’t protect because they might not be able to show COVID related financial hardship,” she said. 

Dias says the Tenant Safe Harbor Act puts the burden of proof on the tenant. According to legislation, tenants are prohibited from evictions from March 7, 2020 until Phase 4 of the opening  and “no court shall issue a warrant of eviction or judgment of possession against a residential tenant or other lawful occupant that has suffered a financial hardship during the COVID-19 covered period for the non-payment of rent that accrues or becomes due during the COVID-19 16 covered period.” The tenant may raise financial hardship as a defense and should show income prior to the pandemic period, income during the COVID-19 covered period, tenants liquid assets and tenant’s eligibility for and receipt of cash assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance program, supplemental security income, the New York State disability program, and other similar programs. 

According to the most recent NYU Furman Center data on eviction filings, between June 20 and September 20 of this year, 9,934 private eviction cases (non public housing cases) were filed in city’s housing courts. The count began on June 20th when Cuomo’s emergency order on the eviction moratorium expired. Data analyst Ryan Brenner wrote in his analysis that typically the city would have seen an estimated 38,000 eviction cases filed within the same time period. 

However, Brenner said evictions filings have not increased as could be expected during an economic crisis.The city has seen its eviction filings steadily decline since the city passed the Right to Counsel law in 2017. Right to Counsel law, also known as Universal Access to Counsel, gives low-income tenants facing evictions free legal support in housing court. 

Brenner said a similar dip in eviction cases was seen last year after the state passed the historic package of rent reforms governing nearly 1 million rent-stabilized apartments across the five boroughs, where annual rent increases are governed by the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), including rent-stabilized tenants in Nassau, Rockland and Westchester Counties.

Tenant and housing advocates coalitions, Housing Justice for All and Right to Counsel, said in a joint statement  that  Cuomo’s announcement was “misleading and disingenuous.”

“It fails to cover tenants facing holdover evictions, and leaves millions of New Yorkers vulnerable to being thrown from their homes in the middle of a pandemic. It is arguably weaker than the Federal CDC moratorium announced this month,” read the statement.

The concern over holdover cases is that, while they might not directly reflect a dispute driven by a tenants’ financial situation, they still raise public-health concerns, because they could result in a household being evicted and potential made homeless in the midst of a pandemic.

They are calling on state elected officials to show support for three pieces of state legislation, the first is Emergency Housing Stability and Displacement Prevention Act, introduced by state Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Karines Reyes, which would protect residential and commercial tenants from filings and evictions throughout the crisis, plus an additional year. This bill is in the Assembly Committee. The second bill, the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020, introduced by Senator Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, would cancel rents and mortgage payments for the duration of the crisis, with some financial relief for landlords “who demonstrate financial hardship” due to the pandemic. This bill is in the Rules Committee. 

And lastly, the Housing Access Voucher Program, introduced by Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz, would provide housing vouchers for eligible individuals and families who are homeless, or who face an imminent loss of housing. The Housing Trust Fund Corporation would oversee the program, and state and local public housing agencies would administer it. This bill is currently in the Housing, Construction And Community Development Committee. 

Landlord advocates have long embraced voucher programs as a method for closing the gap between asking rents and what tenants can afford, but have opposed continued restrictions on the ability to evict or moves to cancel rent, arguing that a steep reduction in rent revenue will make it impossible for many owners to support their properties.