The New York State legislature is set to pass the strongest eviction protections in the country on Monday in a rare special session.
The legislation would give tenants the option to submit a hardship declaration due to COVID-19 from lost income, increased health or child care expenses, or other reasons. Once the form is submitted, it prevents the landlord from filing an eviction in court and halts eviction cases already underway until May 1st.
Tenants have two months to fill out the form, effectively implementing a two month halt on eviction cases.
The bill also includes a hardship declaration form for homeowners and landlords with ten or fewer units to protect small property owners against foreclosures and tax lien sales.
"The bill advanced by the Senate Majority will help ensure New York tenants, homeowners, and small landlords will not have to fear being kicked out of their homes if they've been impacted by this pandemic and economic crisis," State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.
Her counterpart, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, added: "Enacting these critical protections will give us the opportunity to work with our federal congressional delegation—and with the incoming Biden Administration—to continue to craft policy and direct critical federal funding to help tenants, homeowners and especially small landlords."
The existing protections under the Tenant Safe Harbor Act passed in June and bolstered under an executive order from Cuomo made it so that unpaid rent during the COVID-19 crisis couldn't result in an eviction warrant. But some evictions have still been carried out because existing state and federal protections do not halt eviction proceedings but have instead created layers of defenses for tenants to bring to court, leaving some terms open to "future judicial interpretation."
NYC Marshals have executed one residential eviction in the Bronx, two in Brooklyn, and one in Queens, according to a city database regarding evictions.
Between July and November, more than 23,000 non-payment complaints were filed against tenants in NYC, less than half the cases during the same time period in 2019, but the drop in cases has not alleviated fears of a future wave of evictions. Housing courts have a backlog of some 150,000 cases from before the pandemic.
The new bill prevents eviction cases from being filed at all or proceeding if cases are underway once a tenant attests to financial hardship.
It also covers tenants facing a holdover complaint, with the exception of a nuisance claim.
"One of the particularly innovative things about this bill is it basically defines what a hardship is in very specific terms and then it allows a tenant or a homeowner to attest that they have such a hardship," said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, a lead Senate sponsor of the bill, called the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act. "Once they have signed the attestation, they are protected."
The legislation is "really focused on the public health implications of getting evicted," the Brooklyn and Manhattan lawmaker added.
Housing Justice for All campaign coordinator Cea Weaver said, "It's a huge, huge, huge step forward."
"Ultimately, it's gonna buy us the time and the resources we need to win a real rent forgiveness program with the state legislature," Weaver said.
The Rent Stabilization Association, which represents residential landlords, condemned the legislation, issuing a statement saying, "A public health crisis does not justify slamming the courthouse doors for legitimate claims of owners."
A group representing property owners of rent-stabilized buildings, Community Housing Improvement Program, declined to comment on the bill itself until the group gathers feedback from its members.
CHIP's executive director Jay Martin did note, however, that "moratoriums do not solve the problem of paying for the cost of housing."
"We will continue to push for a bail out of renters so that our owners can continue to safely keep [tenants] housed," Martin said. "They are doing their part and then some. It’s time for relief."
The legislation is expected to be passed Monday in a special session in both houses in the state legislature.
Whether Governor Andrew Cuomo supports the bill as written is unknown. His office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Cuomo spokesperson, Rich Azzopardi, told the Times Union late last week that discussions were continuing with both the Senate and Assembly.
"The Governor would have to be crazy to not sign this bill," Weaver said. "I think it would be very, very hard for Governor Cuomo to veto this bill."
Democrats secured a supermajority in the State Senate during the November elections, and Weaver said passing this legislation would set a "good tone for what a supermajority can do."
If promptly signed into law, the eviction and foreclosure protections would arrive just days after New Yorkers saw more jobless benefits lapse on Saturday. Congress passed a coronavirus relief bill that would extend and re-implement various jobless benefits programs, but President Donald Trump created days of uncertainty after he took until Sunday to sign the bill. The deal will bring billions in COVID aid to NY.
Nationwide, the federal COVID relief measure also included $25 billion in rent relief.
About $1.3 billion in rent relief was allocated to NY, according to a summary of allocations released by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer's office.
Kavanagh said the latest state legislation as well as the allocation for rent relief in the federal bill leaves him feeling optimistic.
"[B]efore this four months lapses, we will have a much better answer in terms of providing financial resources for tenants and for landlords who are struggling to keep up with the costs, and homeowners," he said.