Extended Anti-Eviction Bill Sails Through NY Legislature

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (May 3, 2021, 8:14 PM EDT) -- A bill extending eviction protections across New York through Aug. 31 sailed through the state's Democratic-majority Senate and Assembly on Monday, and is headed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk, where he is expected to sign it.

The bill, introduced in April, tacks four additional months onto the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020. It maintains a status quo established in December, when the number and type of residential eviction cases that can proceed in housing court was substantially narrowed.

Assembly codes committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz, who co-sponsored the bill along with Senate housing committee Chair Brian Kavanagh, said during session Monday that an extension is crucial because the pandemic has not ended, and the state office tasked with administering more than $2 billion in federal rent relief has yet to launch its program.

"My own opinion was that going beyond August 31 at this point in time would be too long ... but a day before then may not be enough time to address the situation with the money getting out to people and, frankly, getting the better of the virus," Dinowitz told his colleagues.

Applications for rent relief are expected to be released before the end of May, according to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

The bill is poised to extend protections that technically lapsed May 1, after a drafting error delayed Monday's vote, although legislators say its protections will be retroactive to the start of the month.

Republican legislators said Monday that small landlords are fed up with housing courts that have been either fully or partially closed for more than a year, and urged their colleagues to consider a shorter extension until the end of June, when a narrower Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule curtailing evictions is scheduled to expire.

"Our conference does not support the idea of mass evictions immediately," said New York Sen. Mike Martucci, a Republican. "In fact, we think an appropriate date would be June 30."

But the votes rolled in decisively after a few hours of discussion, 91-57 in the Assembly and 42-21 in the Senate.

In addition to extending residential eviction protections, the bill now headed to Cuomo's desk prolongs commercial eviction protections enacted this spring, as well as mortgage and tax foreclosure prevention for homeowners and small landlords who own 10 or fewer units.

The bill does not prevent evictions cases from being heard altogether.

In New York City, for example, "many different types of eviction cases have been heard ... including two attorney cases from before the pandemic and after, as well as cases involving unrepresented tenants commenced both before the pandemic and after," courts spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told Law360 at the end of April.

In order to avail themselves of the eviction protections included in the bill, residential tenants must submit a form to their landlord or to the court attesting that they have experienced financial hardship during the pandemic or that moving would pose a serious health risk.

Unless a landlord is pursuing claims that his or her tenant is causing a serious and persistent nuisance, that tenant's case will then be put on hold. As of late April, nearly 30,000 residential hardship forms had been submitted in pending cases in New York City.

Cuomo's office did not reply to multiple requests for comment, although the governor indicated during a press conference Monday that longer-lasting eviction protections will allow enough time for federal rent relief to get out the door.

"Remember, these are massive, complicated programs," Cuomo told reporters. "Both for tenant relief and small business relief. And you have to write regulations, you have to make sure there's no fraud, you have to send the applications, you have to fill it out, it has to come back, it has to be verified. So you want to make sure no harm is done in the meantime."

The Legal Aid Society of New York, which advocated vigorously for the extension, celebrated in a press release following Monday's votes.

"Albany lawmakers passed common sense legislation today to extend New York's residential eviction moratorium for a crucial four additional months," Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the civil law reform unit, said, adding that Cuomo "should sign this bill into law without delay."

Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord trade group, dismissed the bill as "political theater" and demanded fast action on the federal rent relief program.

"We need our state lawmakers to act with the same lightning speed as they do with their political gamesmanship to get these federal rent relief funds into the hands of financially desperate renters and landlords to address rent arrears," he said.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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

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