NY Bill Would Extend Eviction Law Amid Rent Relief Delay

By Emma Whitford
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Law360 (August 6, 2021, 5:10 PM EDT) -- Two Democratic state legislators on Friday introduced legislation to extend New York's pandemic anti-eviction law through Oct. 31, citing the "failure" of an ongoing state effort to quickly administer more than $2 billion in federal rental assistance.

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assembly Member Yuh-Line Niou said they are seeking to extend the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020, or CEEFPA, which was enacted in December and is currently poised to expire Aug. 31.

Their bill comes as pressure mounts on the state to move faster in pushing out federal funds through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, administered by New York's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Gov. Andrew Cuomo pledged to "streamline" the program in late July.

The contagious coronavirus delta variant is also a concern, the lawmakers said.

"The failure of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program to properly distribute funds and the surge of the delta variant has put the livelihoods of many New Yorkers at risk," Biaggi said Friday.

In addition to extending residential eviction protections, the new bill would also prolong commercial eviction protections enacted this spring, as well as mortgage and tax foreclosure prevention.

The state Legislature is not currently in session, although Biaggi and Niou are calling on lawmakers to reconvene before the month is out, according to a spokesperson. Representatives for House Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.

A spokesperson for OTDA defended the office's progress in a statement Friday, saying the program has now administered $40 million, "including $19 million just yesterday."

The office also referenced protections against eviction that are written into the ERAP program, including that tenants are protected from eviction while their applications are pending. Tenants whose applications are accepted are also protected from no-cause eviction for one year.

"Calls to extend New York's eviction moratorium constantly ignore a key provision of the law that protects any tenant who applies for rental assistance from being evicted while their application is being reviewed," the office said.

CEEFPA was initially set to expire in May before its original sponsors, Assembly codes committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz and Senate housing committee Chair Brian Kavanagh, spearheaded the extension through August.

Reached for comment Friday, Dinowitz said he may pursue his own extension legislation, and that an Assembly hearing on the ERAP program scheduled for next week "should inform what our next steps need to be."

"I am actively discussing these important issues with my colleagues, and if it becomes clear that more time is needed for OTDA to get this money out the door, I am absolutely ready to introduce a third version of the eviction moratorium that state Senator Kavanagh and I have successfully passed on behalf of New Yorkers," Dinowitz said.

A "consensus-driven solution" should trump "splashy headlines," he added.

Advocates for landlords were expectedly hostile Friday, saying the Legislature should focus all its energy on distributing rent relief.

"Rather than concentrate on getting these monies out, some in the state Legislature continue to suggest using duct tape to treat multiple bullet wounds," said Olga Someras, general counsel for the Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord trade group that is currently suing to block CEEFPA.

State Republican leadership also slammed the bill. "This is the exact situation small landlords feared," Assembly minority leader Will Barclay said in a statement.

Meanwhile, a lead organizer with Housing Justice for All, a coalition of tenant groups that called for the cancelation of rent in 2020, said Biaggi and Niou have not gone far enough and that eviction protections should be extended until June 2022 — one year after New York's state of emergency lifted.

"We think that the problems with ERAP aren't going to be fixed in two months, the money isn't going to be out the door in two months, people aren't going to be back at work in two months," coalition organizer Cea Weaver told Law360. "We need more time to address this crisis."

Niou responded with a statement, calling the bill an "an emergency response to the possibility of returning to session."

"Extending it past the bill date is possible and something we'd like to explore further if needed, but tenants need measures now, especially with ERAP being a mess right now," she said.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled a new, more targeted version of its own anti-eviction order, which expired briefly at the end of July.

In place through Oct. 3, the order requires tenants in counties experiencing "substantial or high rates of transmission" to submit a form to their landlord attesting they meet various qualifications in order to avoid eviction. Although implemented last fall, the CDC order has yet to apply in New York, as CEEFPA offers broader protection to tenants.

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath and Andrew McIntyre. Editing by Stephen Berg.

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