ITHACA, N.Y. –– In an effort to keep New Yorkers who are struggling during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in their homes through the winter, the New York State Senate passed new legislation Monday barring evictions until May. The new bill named, “the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act” is being hailed as the “strongest eviction moratorium in the nation” by lawmakers.

The new legislation, which brings with it several expanded protections including most notably the standardizing of hardship declaration (the new moratorium asks tenants to fill out a single form with no evidentiary documents) comes just as the previous eviction moratorium was set to expire Dec. 31.

“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,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

In past months organizers from the Ithaca Tenants Union and other such groups across the state have criticized Gov. Cuomo’s previous eviction moratoriums for ignoring the plight of gig-workers and under the table employees, who may not have proper documentation of loss of income in order to qualify for protection. The new legislation gives renters about two months to sign a declaration that does not require any tax forms or income statements, and states they have lost income or dealt with increased costs, or declares that moving would put them or a member of their household at higher risk of COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition.

“This eviction order is the strongest in the country, freezing all residential evictions for 60 days and allowing tenants to further delay them until May,” said ITU organizer Genevieve Rand. “We’re disappointed it’s not automatic and requires signing a form, which risks failing those without internet and printer access, so ITU will be printing and delivering the form to anyone who needs it for free. It also doesn’t address many soft eviction techniques, or some housing programs like mental health recovery and re-entry after incarceration, so tenant organizations like ours statewide will still need to work hard to fill in those gaps in protection. But it’s something.”

This latest eviction moratorium also gives a break to homeowners and small landlords with 10 or fewer units, protecting them from foreclosure if mortgage payments are not met. Homeowners and landlords must also fill out the same hardship form. Property owners will be protected from credit discrimination if they fall behind on mortgage payments or if they receive a stay of mortgage foreclosure, tax foreclosure or tax lien sales on the property.

While the new legislation does provide some relief for dire situations, landlords across the city and state continue to feel left behind by the movement to stay rent payments and so called “cancel rent” as mortgage payments have continued to be collected throughout the pandemic.

“I’m really sick and tired of people treating these landlords like the enemy,” said Russ Maines, a member of the board of directors for the Landlords Association of Tompkins County. “These are people who need to pay bills and pay taxes.” 

Despite not facing foreclosure or evictions, back payments on mortgages and rent will be expected once the moratorium expires.

“Our expenses aren’t going down or changing,” said Brian McIlroy, president of the LATC. “We’re the only industry being told to provide goods and services free of charge, we can’t get PPP loans or any other relief. The landlords are very disappointed, and legislators don’t reach out to us or ask our opinions or try and work with us in any way when they’re trying to draft stuff like this.”

Some government officials did speak on behalf of landlord’s concerns during the senate hearing on Monday including Assemblyman Andy Goodell who said, “we are dealing with fundamental property rights…Landlords are deprived of their property without any opportunity for due process.”

McIlroy spoke to that point, emphasizing that a main tactic to incentivize tenants to pay rent has been to file eviction proceedings.

“We can’t even get people to court (under the new law),” McIlroy said.  

The new law will extend to tenants who are experiencing a “holdover eviction”, that is a case is started for a different reason than nonpayment of rent (i.e. your lease expired, or you are too noisy, or the tenant gave you the apartment without telling the landlord/owner, or you put a wall up without permission.) For tenants already involved in pending eviction proceedings, their case will be stayed for at least 60 days. For those who an eviction warrant has yet to be issued, the case will be stayed until at least May 1.

Evictions will continue to be allowed for tenants who are, “persistently and unreasonably engaging in behavior that substantially infringes on the use and enjoyment of other tenants or occupants or causes a substantial safety hazard to others.”

“This law adds to previous executive orders by protecting the needy and vulnerable who, through no fault of their own, face eviction during an incredibly difficult period for New York,” Gov. Cuomo said in an announcement of the new legislation. “The more support we provide for tenants, mortgagors and seniors, the easier it will be for them to get back on their feet when the pandemic ends.”

For more information on the new law visit New York State’s website here.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com