NY Sen. Introduces COVID-19 Rent, Mortgage Suspension Bill

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (March 24, 2020, 12:43 PM EDT) -- Commercial and residential tenants harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic would not have to pay rent for 90 days under legislation introduced by New York state Sen. Michael Gianaris.

Tenants who lose income or must close their business "shall never be required to pay any rent waived during such time period" under S.B. 8125, which was referred Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The legislation would also provide mortgage relief to the landlords of qualifying commercial and residential tenants. The State Assembly has not yet introduced a version of the bill.

"The devastation caused by coronavirus will be far-reaching and long-lasting," Gianaris, who is also deputy leader of the state Senate, said in a statement. "We must stay on top of the fast-changing consequences of our efforts to contain the virus, and the millions of tenants in our state cannot be left behind. Suspending rents is a critically important step to help New Yorkers survive this unprecedentedly difficult time."

Close to half of New York's residents rent across 3 million households, according to a 2018 report from the statewide tenant coalition Housing Justice for All.

Gianaris' bill currently has 11 co-sponsors. Joining the Queens Democrat are 10 Democrats and one Republican: Sen. Rich Funke, whose district includes parts of Monroe and Ontario counties in the western part of the state.

Tenants whose leases expire during the 90-day period would get an automatic lease renewal at the same rent charged when the lease expired, according to the bill text. Late fees accrued during the time period would not be collectible. Gianaris' office did not immediately explain how a tenant would prove they meet the bill's qualifications.

Mortgage relief for landlords under S.B. 8125 would be determined using a calculation. Landlords would pay their mortgage multiplied by a fraction "up to the total dollar amount of lost rent."

The fraction would be the total amount of rent payments suspended over the 90-day period, divided by the total amount of rent payments typically owed during that period.

Landlords would not be on the hook for full mortgage payments at a later date.

Reached for comment, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo spokesperson Jason Conwall said, "We will review the bill." 

Last week, Cuomo's office imposed a 90-day moratorium on residential and commercial evictions and foreclosures, and directed banks to defer mortgage payments for homeowners for 90 days.

State courts have also put eviction proceedings on indefinite pause.

Tenants and their advocates have said that an eviction moratorium does not go far enough, because many New Yorkers will not be able to pay the rent once the moratorium lifts.

Housing Justice for All, the tenant coalition, is supportive of Gianaris' bill. But organizer Cea Weaver told Law360 Tuesday that a longer rent suspension is needed.

"Gianaris' bill is a step in the right direction," Weaver told Law360. "Many New Yorkers work precarious jobs, and will be unable to prove that their lack of income is COVID-19 related. The most effective way to make this program work is to make it universal, for all renters, for the duration of this crisis."

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has also called for a moratorium on rent, tweeting Monday that "extended stay-at-home orders cannot be successful without issuing mortgage, rent, + debt moratoriums to go with them."

The Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association representing commercial and residential property owners, banks and financial service companies, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gianaris' bill. 

New York has the most coronavirus cases in the country, according to Cuomo's office. There are 25,665 cases and 210 deaths as of Tuesday morning. New Jersey is a far second, with 2,844 cases and 27 deaths.

--Editing by Katherine Rautenberg. 

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Cuomo's office. 

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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