UPDATE, 8:20 p.m.: The governor signed this bill Tuesday evening, according to the state senate sponsor, Brad Hoylman.
Hoylman said in a statement: “Now that the Tenant Safe Harbor Act has been signed into law, those New Yorkers most affected financially during this pandemic will have immediate protection from eviction. No single law can single-handedly solve the eviction crisis—but the Tenant Safe Harbor Act is a one crucial step to address the looming tidal wave of evictions.”
A measure that would keep tenants from getting kicked out of their homes for missed rent payments during the COVID-19 crisis is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo's signature this week.
The legislation, sponsored by State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, won't cancel rent—a COVID-19 rallying cry as hundreds of thousands have lost work with little to no relief.
But advocates for the bill see it as a meaningful measure to keep people in their homes—creating a process for negotiation between landlords and tenants to pay backlogged rent once the state-mandated eviction moratorium ends August 20th.
"Tenants will never be kicked out of their homes for owing rent during the COVID-19 period [under the bill] if they've been economically hurt by the pandemic," Hoylman said. "It establishes a permanent protection for tenants in that regard."
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Congress has expanded unemployment to freelancers and gig workers, as well as offered up an extra $600 a week through the end of July. But some still haven't been able to access such relief, such as undocumented immigrants or others who are ineligible for unemployment.
The bill would make it so that landlords could only seek a money judgment from tenants, rather than formally trying to boot them out.
"We're really looking at a crisis period, and we really need to make sure that we're not having an avalanche of people into the shelter system, because that would be a disaster," Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society, told Gothamist. "It doesn't cancel rent. It doesn't really help people pay the rent. It just helps prevent losing their homes."
Wanda, the mother of a 17-year-old son, says the fear of eviction has been anxiety-inducing during the pandemic.
Her landlord has tried to illegally enter her apartment and harassed her after she lost her job in the entertainment industry and couldn't pay rent, she told Gothamist.
"It was really a tug-of-war for the first three months and it's a headache on top of trying to be able to provide a roof and food and shelter and just day-to-day operations," said the Crown Heights resident, who did not receive unemployment. "You're concern is, 'Okay, could they ever enter your apartment? Could they take your things? Could they kick you out?'"
She worked with Legal Aid to learn her rights and used her security deposit to pay one month's rent. She was behind three months on rent and has since scrambled to pay about half.
But she says the Safe Harbor Act "would give me back some normalcy."
"It would give me back sense I can take care of my responsibilities," she said. "I'm not asking for freebies or just a walk in the park."
Cuomo has until midnight on Tuesday to sign the Tenant Safe Harbor Act. If he doesn't sign or veto it, the bill would still become law and take effect immediately, since it was sent to the Governor's office 10 business days ago, Hoylman's office confirmed.
Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said in an email: "We are reviewing the bill."
"During this incredibly difficult time, this administration has made it a priority to provide assistance to struggling New Yorkers—including extending the state's moratorium on evictions until August 20th for anyone who is suffering financial hardship due to COVID-19, allowing renters to use their security deposit to make rent payments, banning late fees for missing rent payments, and signing into law $100 million in rental assistance to New Yorkers suffering financial hardship due to the global pandemic," she added.
Goldiner, of Legal Aid, says she hopes the federal government passes the HEROES Act next, a the Covid relief package at a standstill in the Senate after passing in the House that would bring $100 billion in rent relief to New York.
Until more rent payment relief arrives—if it does—this bill would relieve tenants from eviction related to any rent accrued during COVID-19 restrictions.
It also allows for tenants to benefit so long as they suffered financial hardship "during" the pandemic—lifting the burden from tenants to prove they lost work "due to" the virus.
"That seems like a little thing but it's actually super important for folks," Goldiner said. "Trying to show—if you are in the gray economy or if you're undocumented–that the reason your employer let you go is because of the virus can be really hard for people."
Brownsville resident Cleevens Jeudi says he and his wife both lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and only recently got accepted into the unemployment benefits program, but has yet to receive money.
"My wife was denied unemployment, and we don't know why," he said during a press call Monday. "We have no income at all, no food stamps. My father is helping us but he cannot do that forever. I can't pay the rent right now and am getting bills every month."
He emphasized he cannot lose his home, where he's lived more than a decade with his wife and two kids. Under this measure, he says, "I could pay back rent over time but I can't pay it all at once."