New York renters and homeowners lost some of their eviction and foreclosure protections Saturday as the State ended a nearly 2-year moratorium intended to prevent New Yorkers from losing their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19.
Advocates and landlords don’t expect a rush of evictions right away, as the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program still provides some protection against eviction.
Still, Joe Loonan, coordinator of housing campaigns for the advocacy group VOCAL-NYwarned that the state is laying the groundwork for a homeless crisis over the next year.
“I think we will see in a year that the shelter system has grown exponentially because a lot of people will have come in after the eviction moratorium, and people will stay in the system much longer than before,” he said.
However, landlords said it was time to end the eviction ban, arguing tenants could file financial hardship claims in court. The state should keep pushing for federal help for renters, said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents New York City landlords.
The moratorium had stopped most evictions through Jan. 15, except in cases where landlords claimed tenants were damaging property or becoming a safety hazard. It covered hundreds of thousands of commercial and residential homeowners and renters, who still have some protections against eviction and foreclosure.
Previously, New York allowed tenants to file court documents saying they were in financial hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic and use those hardships as a defense in eviction proceedings. It was up to landlords to prove that a tenant was not in financial difficulty.
The state initially stopped accepting rental assistance applications on Nov. 15, but a judge ordered officials last week to reopen the application portal for now, while the court considers a lawsuit brought by tenants and the Legal Aid Society.
The portal reopened this week, though the state says the federal money that fueled the program has dried up for most counties.
However, applicants get protection from eviction while the State reviews their filings. And if they receive relief money and landlords refuse to accept it, tenants can use that as a legal defense if landlords try to evict them for nonpayment of rent.
New York City resident Helen Morley said she is still waiting for a response on an appeal she filed in September after her application was denied. Morley, who said he spent his savings to pay as much rent as he could, applied in mid-June and asked for $9,100.
“The appeals process is very opaque,” he said. “There is no way to see why someone has been making the decision that they are making and what is going on or the standard process for it.”
She hopes that the state will assign her a social worker to help her, as she fears possible eviction.
Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the state office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said the state has received more than 12,000 appeals from applicants whose rental assistance applications were denied.
“They are under review and we expect the decisions to start coming out in the next few weeks,” Farmer said.
Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, has proposed building 100,000 new affordable housing units in the next few years. It has also launched a free legal assistance program for tenants outside of New York City to fight evictions; the city already has such a program.
But Loonan said neither effort can be done quickly enough to help thousands of renters across the state.
Tenant advocates want the state to pass what is known as the good cause eviction bill, which would allow evictions only for certain reasons. They include not paying rent or using the facilities for illegal purposes, but the proposal says that a rent increase cannot be grounds for eviction.
Strasburg said the legislation would essentially turn lease agreements into unilateral agreements in which tenants would have all the power.