New York City’s eviction rate is on the rise, with marshals removing nearly 4,400 households from their apartments in the year since January 2022, when a freeze on most ejections expired, according to eviction data.
The number of legal residential removals rose each month from January to November following the end of the pandemic-spurred eviction moratorium that halted all but 239 legal removals between March 15, 2020 and its expiration on Jan. 15, 2022, according to city data.
While the number of evictions since the moratorium ended still trails pre-pandemic figures by a wide margin, tenant advocates warned that the eviction spike will balloon as pandemic-related protections dwindle, exacerbating record-high levels of homelessness in New York City and further straining the beleaguered homeless shelter system.
“We’re already in a situation where the homeless crisis is pretty overwhelming,” said Judith Goldiner, the top attorney in the Legal Aid Society’s civil unit. “Any evictions add to that crisis, and any eviction is an unbelievable tragedy for the family going through it.”
During the first two years of the pandemic, an array of court directives, executive orders by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo and laws passed by the state Legislature largely barred landlords from evicting tenants for not paying rent during the pandemic. Some of those protections remain in effect for tenants in need of assistance.
Prior to the pandemic, marshals completed roughly 17,000 evictions in 2019 and there were 3,064 residential evictions in the first two and a half months of 2020, according to data compiled and updated by the Department of Investigation, which oversees city marshals.
Last year, New York City landlords filed roughly 110,000 eviction notices, according to court system records.
Inside of Manhattan Housing Court on Friday, landlord lawyer David Burton said fears of an eviction wave are overblown. Court processes remain slow, especially with a deepening backlog of cases, and tenants have access to a range of relief, he said.
“There are some evictions going through, but there are many inherent delays with the court system resulting in evictions occurring but not at the pace or the level they were prior,” said Burton, from the firm Horing Welikson Rosen “There are so many safeguards for tenants that anything you hear or read that there aren’t is just not accurate.”
Burton said judges are adjourning cases for months into the future, buying tenants more time to stay in place even if they have not been paying rent.
Though proceedings tend to take several months before a judge issues an eviction warrant, tenant lawyers counter that judges are speeding too quickly through cases for tenants without legal representation.
Another protection put in place during the pandemic is also withering.
The state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, known as ERAP, allowed tenants who applied for relief to request a stay of their eviction proceedings until the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) issued a decision, typically after several months. But the ERAP portal will officially close Jan. 20 and many applicants are unlikely to be reimbursed unless the federal government replenishes the tapped out fund.
All told, ERAP has paid out $2.72 billion to landlords on behalf of 216,916 applicants, according to OTDA reports, but the fund first ran out of money in November 2021 before receiving a few more modest allotments from the state and federal government. Around 180,000 applications remain outstanding, and many owners said the fund was flawed because it only covered up to a year of missed payments, plus three future months.
“It worked in the short-term,” Burton said. “It was a band-aid on a gunshot wound.”
In many cases, tenants and landlords manage to reach an agreement outside of court. Those examples are not captured in the eviction data. In other instances, tenants opt to leave after receiving a notice, sometimes referred to as “self-evicting,” before a judge orders them out.
But low-income tenants who give up or are forced to forfeit their apartments face scant options. Rents have surged and the city’s most recent housing survey showed fewer than 1% of apartments priced below $1,500 were empty and available to rent.
The city’s Right to Counsel law is supposed to guarantee a lawyer for all low-income New Yorkers facing eviction. But a deluge of filings has strained capacity at nonprofit legal groups and forced qualifying tenants to represent themselves in court. City officials are urging the state court system to slow the pace of proceedings to give attorneys time and capacity to take on new cases.
“We maintain it is a violation of the spirit of the Right to Counsel law to allow cases to proceed when tenants are not receiving the representation they are guaranteed,” the borough presidents of Brooklyn, The Bronx and Manhattan wrote in a letter Tuesday to Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, whose chamber is weighing the nomination of a new chief judge with power over the Housing Court processes.
Inside Manhattan Housing Court Tuesday morning, dozens of tenants searched for their cases on dockets posted outside of courtrooms, while attorneys paced the hallways or reviewed paperwork. There were at least 324 eviction hearings on judges’ calendars.
Washington Heights resident Andrea Lara said she hoped to connect with a free attorney to give her family guidance as they tried to fight eviction from the West 159th Street apartment where her mother has lived for four decades.
Lara, 33, said the family pays about $800 per month in rent but has fallen behind by about $5,000 after her cash assistance case was closed by mistake. Her mother has no current source of income, she said.
The family received an eviction notice in December after missing five months of rent payments, court documents show.
A person at the phone number listed on court filings for the landlord attorney and building owner, a limited liability company based in Coney Island, twice hung up the phone when contacted Tuesday and did not respond to two voicemails.
If the family loses their apartment, they will have to move in with her sister or seek space in a family shelter, Lara said.
She said she also hopes the city’s Human Resources Administration will provide an emergency cash grant known as a “one-shot deal” to cover at least a portion of the back rent.
HRA issues one-shot deals to low-income New Yorkers facing eviction or contending with other expenses, like moving fees and energy bills. HRA said the agency issued about $100 million in one-shot deal grants last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2022, while they waited for tenants to receive decisions on ERAP applications, compared to $212 million the previous fiscal year.
Some nonprofit organizations, like the Partnership to End Homelessness, also issue grants to cover back rent.
“This is so confusing,” Lara said. “I’m just worried my mom will get evicted.”