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Law360 (June 18, 2020, 5:24 PM EDT) -- New York State Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks on Thursday issued new guidance for residential and commercial eviction proceedings in the state, delaying hearings in new cases as well as the service of eviction warrants at least until July 7.
Thursday's memorandum allows for the filing of new cases starting Monday, corresponding with the expiration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's blanket eviction moratorium.
But these new cases will not proceed for at least several weeks, to avoid a "sudden high-volume influx of eviction matters," Judge Marks said.
Despite early indications that landlord attorneys would be able to file cases in person Monday, the order states that new cases must be filed electronically or by mail. But New York City courts likely will not have electronic filing in housing court until "later this summer," Judge Marks said.
"In other words [a landlord] can't issue a warrant to throw you out, but if you want to file a new case you can mail it in," Office of Court Administration spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told Law360. "It's just that further action is stayed. And then after July 7th we'll see where we're at."
The July date corresponds with the expiration of one of Cuomo's emergency orders responding to the pandemic.
One category of cases will be calendared starting next week, according to the memo — virtual settlement cases will be scheduled in eviction cases that commenced on or before March 16.
Additionally, landlords filing new eviction cases will have to provide an affidavit confirming that they have reviewed all existing state and federal restrictions on evictions and believe "in good faith" that the case is "consistent with those proceedings and qualifications."
Through Aug. 20, Cuomo has ordered that tenants eligible for unemployment, or who have experienced financial hardship related to COVID-19, cannot be evicted. How attorneys will determine who this applies to has been cause for confusion.
Landlords must also provide tenants with a form notice in English and Spanish stating that they "may be eligible for an extension of time to respond in light of legal directives related to the COVID-19 pandemic," Judge Marks said.
Earlier this week, New York City housing court judges said that no tenant who fails to appear in court will face eviction by default for the foreseeable future.
"As the court system continues expansion of court operations around the state in coordination with the governor's reopening of various geographic regions, we remain concerned about the adverse public health consequences that may arise from a sudden high-volume influx of eviction matters, often involving unrepresented tenants ... and necessitating in-court appearances," Judge Marks wrote Thursday.
In the last quarter of fiscal year 2019, 68% of tenants in housing court were unrepresented, according to a recent letter from state senators urging a delayed reopening.
Housing court attorneys said Thursday afternoon that they were digesting this latest directive from the OCA.
"OCA is trying to please everybody by creating this pinhole opening into the courthouse," said Sateesh Nori, attorney in charge of Legal Aid's Queens Housing Office. "To me it just shows that they could have avoided all of this by just waiting to reopen, instead of setting up this labyrinth in front of the courthouse door for landlords and tenants to navigate. There are so many ambiguities that people are chewing over right now, on the Thursday before this happens."
Tenants rights groups including Housing Justice for All, a statewide coalition, have planned protests for Monday morning outside housing courts in New York City, Binghamton, Buffalo, Albany and Hempstead.
--Editing by Jack Karp.
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