ITHACA, N.Y. — In another attempt to protect tenants from potential evictions, the Ithaca Tenants Union has announced the start of a tip-line that can be used by people facing evictions, as housing advocates prepare for a long-feared wave of evictions that would take place as the pandemic continues.

There’s been plenty of confusion about the eviction situation and where it stands legally. As of right now, New York State’s eviction moratorium is poised to end for residential renters on Oct. 1, while commercial renters are safe until later in October, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo could extend the moratorium at any time, as he has done several times during the coronavirus pandemic. Some evictions, such as holdover evictions where a tenant’s lease has expired but they are still in the rental property, have been technically allowed to proceed for months unimpeded by state regulations. There’s a nationwide eviction moratorium through the Center for Disease Control in place currently, but whether that will actually effectively be able to protect renters effectively is in question.

Renters can visit www.ithacaTU.org/evictions or dial (607) 358-5048 if they or someone they know is facing an eviction and will be connected to “trained union stewards.” The phone number is separate from the Ithaca Tenants Union’s previously established hotline with Cornell University that connected renters with legal advice from Cornell law students.

“Calling this number will direct folks directly to our union and not just Cornell law students,” ITU member Ellie Pfeffer said. “Union stewards will be trained to answer questions, give advice, and they’ll be educated on basic tenant laws, local organizations and aid options and working-class power-building strategies. […] Even if an eviction is legal, we’re here to help them gain power in the situation.”

The tipline will also assist the ITU to monitor where evictions are happening and connect with tenants more directly. Some of the aforementioned power-building strategies could include blockading evictions, defined as the literal use of people to simply block landlords from taking tenants and their property out of an apartment or house. Those types of steps, perhaps a bit more drastic, would be initiated in consultation with the tenant, Pfeffer said.

“In the case of illegal evictions, especially, this can be a really powerful tool, literally physically stopping an eviction from happening,” Pfeffer said. “In the case of legal evictions, they’re also a powerful tool because they make evicting someone a hassle, ans they make it clearly known that [evictions] throughout the community are not supported and is antithetical to the community’s sentiment. It shows that evictions should not be happening regardless of what the law says or not.”

It’s a move to expand ITU’s capacity to help renters, Pfeffer said, and could come in crucially handy for those in perilous financial positions if and when all legal evictions do begin to move forward again.

“The Ithaca Tenants Union will stand with you as you face housing displacement, regardless of whether you’re protected under the CDC’s moratorium, regardless of how far into the eviction process you are, and regardless of whether you’re behind on rent,” a press release stated. “We have many ways to help, from organizing, to legal representation, to assistance with aid application. As soon as you hear of the potential that you’ll be evicted or asked to move, we want to know. Even being pressed by your landlord to move before you’re ready counts.”

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com