There are now more than 200,000 families across New York State in eviction court. Since Cuomo opened the door to new eviction cases in June, over 33,000 cases have been filed. With a million-plus New York tenants behind on their rent, this number will continue to rise.

rent strike sign

Sadef Ali Kully

A sign protesting rent collections in Brooklyn during the height of the Coronavirus epidemic.

Last Friday a city marshal executed the first residential eviction since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down New York City. Meanwhile, outside the city, tenants and their families were already being evicted from their homes for weeks.  

Our politicians have failed tenants. Governor Andrew Cuomo, our state senators and assembly members, especially Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Speaker of the Assembly Carl Heastie, are the people with the power to prevent mass evictions. They can ensure that families are able to stay in their homes rather than ending up on the street during a global health crisis, and they have simply failed to do so. Instead, we’ve had a chorus of elected officials misleading the public by boasting about what they’ve done for tenants, when really their actions amount to little more than smoke and mirrors. More recently, just when authorities began carrying out evictions, they devolved into radio silence and flagrant inaction. 

Governor Cuomo touted several of his executive orders as being an “eviction moratorium.” But in reality none of them fully prevented all evictions and stopped tenants from inching closer to eviction, as our courts continued to churn through eviction cases. The New York State Legislature passed the so-called Tenant Safe Harbor Act, but that law only prevents some evictions, and does nothing to protect tenants from being sued in eviction proceedings and emerging saddled with debt. The state’s rent relief program only provided aid to 15,000 New Yorkers, a tiny fraction of the million-plus families who have fallen behind on rent during this crisis. And those 15,000 tenants will still face eviction if they can’t keep up with their rent payments moving forward. Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) moratorium also only covers some tenants, forcing them to pay what little money they do have to their landlords, in exchange for eviction protection just until the end of December.

There are now more than 200,000 families across New York State in eviction court. Since Cuomo opened the door to new eviction cases in June, over 33,000 cases have been filed. With a million-plus New York tenants behind on their rent, this number will continue to rise.

Still think we have an eviction moratorium? Think again. The evictions that have happened so far aren’t outliers—they are just the beginning in an emerging statewide crisis. Here are five ways New Yorkers can be evicted right now:

  • You are one of over 150,000 tenants in eviction proceedings before the pandemic started and a warrant of eviction had already been issued against you. Your meager disability payments remained the same throughout the COVID crisis and you lost both your parents to the coronavirus. Your situation doesn’t give you eligibility for any protection under the current laws and you are simply evicted. 
  • You are facing eviction in a case that doesn’t involve non-payment of rent (a holdover), so it is unclear if the existing tenant protections cover you. The judge decides that Governor Cuomo, the CDC, and the State Legislature never intended to stop holdover evictions and you are evicted.  
  • Your New York City landlord sued you for non-payment of rent and you have just 10 days to file a response. You receive court papers that don’t tell you how to respond in your case and you’re a senior, so it’s too dangerous to go to court to find out. When you don’t respond by the 10-day deadline, the court issues a default judgment against you and you are evicted.
  • You are an undocumented tenant working in the informal economy, so you can’t produce any evidence to show a judge that you suffered economic loss due to COVID-19. You therefore can’t show that you’re eligible for protection under the Safe Harbor Act, Governor Cuomo’s executive order, or the CDC moratorium. Undocumented tenants like you weren’t eligible for the New York rent relief program. You and your children are evicted.
  • You live outside of New York City where there is no right to counsel. Without a lawyer you don’t learn of the minimal COVID-19 protections tenants do have, so you never find out that they apply to you or how to demonstrate you qualify in court. The landlord lawyer you are up against is pleased that you don’t raise any of the defenses available to you. You are evicted. 

Evictions have always been violent and traumatizing. Now, more than a million New York tenants are standing on the precipice of eviction and homelessness, as COVID transmission rates escalate to staggering levels nationwide. This is a situation that is needlessly and unfathomably cruel—and it is completely preventable. Tenants need a comprehensive eviction moratorium that will stop all evictions, including new and pending eviction cases, from moving forward. The eviction moratorium bill introduced in July by State Senator Zellnor Myrie and State Assembly Member Karines Reyes would do just that. There is a way to do what is right and what is safe, and that solution has been sitting on the table for months now. Our politicians need to step up and protect tenants, before the looming mass eviction crisis blows completely out of control. 

Marika Dias is the Managing Director of the Safety Net Project – Urban Justice Center and a Steering Committee member of the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition.  Pablo Estupiñan is the Interim Co-Coordinator of the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and Co-Director of Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) in the Bronx.