A week after a pandemic-era moratorium on evictions ended, thousands of low-income New Yorkers behind on rent sought help from an emergency rent relief program, illustrating that many more households are at risk of losing their homes.
The state agency tasked with administering the financial relief, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), received roughly 2,000 applications in the first four days after the statewide moratorium ended on January 15th, according to its spokesperson, Anthony Farmer.
The Office of Temporary Disability Assistance began accepting applications again on January 11th after the agency was ordered to do so by a state judge who said officials acted “arbitrarily” when they shut down the program prematurely due to a lack of funding. From January 11th to January 19th, the agency received about 9,000 applications from renters who said they can’t pay their rent due to a COVID-19-related hardship.
Tenants who applied for relief are protected from evictions while they wait to find out whether their request for funds to cover rent and utility arrears have been approved or denied.
Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program (CHIP), a group made up of about 4,000 owners of mostly rent-stabilized units, said landlords are not rushing to housing court to file eviction notices.
According to CHIP, the average rent owed is about $20,000 – accumulated during the nearly two-year-long pandemic – and Martin said landlords are not likely to recover the money if they evict their tenants now.
“These workers won't have the financial resources to pay these debts back anyway,” said Martin.
Valentina Gojcaj, who manages more than 200 apartments for small property owners in New York City, said about 50 of those tenants are behind on payments.
In one Bronx building near the Grand Concourse, 20 out of the 21 tenants owe rent ranging from $300 to $28,000, Gojcaj said. Four of the renters owe more than $20,000 each.
She said the property owners she works with have not gone to court to seek eviction since the moratorium ended on January 15th.
“Nobody is trying to evict anyone,” Gojcaj said. “Ninety-seven percent of the cases that go to housing court are for non-payment. And, of those 97%, over 90% do not get evicted because they get some kind of assistance and they’re able to stay in their place.”
Martin said his group is lobbying state and federal governments to add more money to ERAP, which was funded with $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money, but has since run out of money.
There have been 82,525 eviction filings in New York City since March 15th, 2020, according to Princeton University’s Eviction Lab, which has been tracking cases on a weekly basis since the pandemic began.
Federal and state governments responded to the economic fallout from COVID-19 by issuing a series of orders limiting landlords’ ability to evict tenants for non-payment of rent, preventing a surge in eviction cases during the pandemic. Over time, elected officials have withdrawn those measures, including New York’s Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020, the most expansive rent relief program in the state, which Gov. Kathy Hochul allowed to expire on January 15th.
While tenant advocates have feared the end of the statewide moratorium would lead to mass evictions, the process of removing renters from their homes for non-payment will take months to work its way through the court system, according to Ellen Davidson of the Legal Aid Society.
Attorneys working for property owners at CHIP said there is a backlog of cases built up during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“So, we're looking at least a timeline of a year to a year and a half on most of these non-payment proceedings,” Martin said. “I'd say, well, to be more conservative, a year to 14 months.”
While tenants living in rent-regulated apartments have more protections there are millions of tenants who live in unregulated apartments who don’t have the same level of protection, said Cea Weaver, a housing advocate and campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition of more than 80 organizations representing tenants and homeless individuals.
“There are 4 million New Yorkers who live in unregulated apartment buildings, and for them, the eviction process will be much faster than an eviction process for a tenant who has the rights to fight it,” Weaver said.
Households that face imminent risk of eviction are those whose landlords asked the court to remove them from their homes before the pandemic and where the court granted a judgment, but a warrant of eviction has yet to be carried out, according to Greg Baltz, a legal fellow at the NYU Furman Center.
Baltz looked at eviction cases filed from November 2019 to January 9th, 2022 and estimated that the court has issued about 28,100 “possessory” judgments, which gives building owners the right to take back possession of a rental unit. He estimated that about 22,000 warrants of eviction have been granted, which gives a city marshal the legal authority to remove a tenant and their belongings from their home. Baltz noted that there were about 77,200 new eviction filings since Mar. 17, 2020 that the court has not yet decided.
“Based on our findings, as the eviction moratorium lapses, there are a range of tenants with eviction cases filed prior to the pandemic shutdown who are at most immediate risk of eviction,” Baltz said.