New York’s pandemic-inspired moratorium on evictions is due to expire Saturday, but those facing a potential ouster from their homes still have a key option to protect themselves.
The statewide moratorium has been in place for more than 20 months and was extended twice amid the ongoing COVID crisis, preventing thousands of New York residents from being evicted during a time of great economic uncertainty.
But state lawmakers left the Capitol as scheduled Wednesday without taking up a bill to further extend it, a day after Gov. Kathy Hochul signaled it would indeed expire January 15th.
“What we want to do is let people know that that is concluding very shortly,” Hochul said Tuesday during a COVID-19 briefing in Manhattan.
There have been 81,530 eviction filings in New York City since March 15th, 2020, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which has been tracking filings across 31 U.S. cities since the start of the pandemic.
Hear WNYC Albany reporter Jon Campbell discuss the range of options for struggling renters:
Those cases had effectively been put on pause while the state’s moratorium remained in place. And many of those won’t move forward, particularly for New Yorkers who ultimately received rental assistance from the state.
But some of them will – unless the tenant files an application for the rental assistance program, which would offer them some protection.
How did we get here?
New York’s state eviction moratorium dates back to March 2020, when New York City was the first national epicenter of the pandemic. There were shutdowns, people were working from home, and many were losing their jobs altogether.
In April 2020, the state’s unemployment rate spiked to 16%, up from 4% the month before. So then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo – who had been granted extraordinary powers by the legislature at the time – issued an order blocking the enforcement of any eviction proceedings.
By December of that year, the state Legislature enacted a new law: The COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act.
That law included a temporary stay on eviction proceedings if a tenant filed a form attesting that they had suffered a financial hardship caused by the pandemic, whether it was a loss of job, a pay cut or anything related.
That moratorium was first put in place through May 2021, then extended to September and one final time until January 15th, 2022, when it will expire.
I’m in danger of eviction. What can I do?
Even with the moratorium expiring, those who are in financial trouble and facing eviction still have one key lever they can pull — essentially a bureaucratic workaround.
The state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) was launched last year as a way to provide up to 15 months of rent and utility payments on behalf of tenants struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic.
The program was funded with $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money. And by this point, that money has been pretty much wiped clean (aside for a handful of counties, including Nassau and Dutchess). But anyone who files an application with ERAP is protected from eviction while their application is pending.
So anyone in danger of losing their home can apply for the funding and still get the eviction protection – even if there’s no money available. And while there is no funding available, the state won’t be processing the applications they receive, meaning they will remain in pending status.
Hochul touted that option for tenants on Tuesday, the day the state reopened the application process after a state judge ordered it to do so.
“There's also another option which is reopening the portal, which … has the same effect in terms of allowing people to take advantage of a situation if they are not able to pay their rent,” Hochul said.
Residents can apply for ERAP here.
Eligible residents in New York City can also take advantage of free housing attorneys under the Right-to-Counsel Law passed by the New York City Council. Anyone who is facing an eviction can call 311, where they’ll be connected to an attorney hired through free legal service offices. More information can be found here.
Will the Emergency Rental Assistance Program get more funding?
It’s possible, but it hasn’t been looking great so far.
The Hochul administration formally requested an additional $1 billion for the program from the federal government late last year, after depleting its initial $2.4 billion allotment.
Earlier this month, the Treasury Department notified the state it would be getting an additional $27 million – well short of what it requested.
Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have been among those pushing the federal government to reconsider and provide more funding.
“That is insulting to our state and it’s not going to solve the problem we need to solve,” Adams said of the $27 million.
Landlords, meanwhile, are calling on the state to put up $2 billion of its own money for the program.
Hochul is scheduled to deliver her state budget proposal Tuesday.
“Tens of thousands of low-income New Yorkers are in trouble,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, a landlord organization. “The only solution is to pay their rent. ERAP will do that if it is fully funded.”
Will the courts be able to handle a crush of eviction proceedings?
It’s not entirely clear just how many eviction cases remain in New York.
Across the state, there are approximately 224,000 pending eviction cases that were paused during the moratorium, according to the Office of Court Administration. But Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the court system, said that number is likely “vastly overstated.”
Why? Because not even the court system knows how many of those cases have already been settled, either because of the rental assistance program or because of some other landlord-tenant agreement. The courts will get a better idea of that when the cases officially resume next week.
Since September 2021, the court system has been putting new eviction cases on the calendar as they come in. Those cases previously paused by the eviction moratorium – known as “hardship declaration stays" – will soon go back on the calendar, Chalfen said.
“All of our court parts have been hearing, settling, trying and deciding cases that are not affected by stays throughout,” he said in an email.
Will Albany take any long-term action on evictions?
Tenant advocates and progressive lawmakers are using the expiring moratorium to push for legislation known as the Good Cause Eviction bill.
The bill would essentially grant tenants a right to an extension when their lease runs out unless the landlord has good cause to evict them – such as the tenant failing to pay rent, violating a substantial part of their lease or using the home for an illegal purpose . It would also limit annual rent increases, tying them to the rate of inflation.
“We really need to fight for long-term, sustainable policies in order to address this ongoing crisis,” state Senator Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat sponsoring the bill, said during a virtual town hall Tuesday. “And that is what the Good Cause Eviction bill seeks to do.”
Landlords are pushing back against the measure, saying it would create a system where problem tenants have an indefinite right to their rentals. Limiting their ability to raise rent, meanwhile, could force some properties into disrepair, owners warn.
Hochul hasn’t yet taken a position on the measure.