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Housing Courts Hearing Eviction Cases Despite Moratorium

The New York City Civil Court has begun hearing eviction cases that had begun before the coronavirus pandemic caused widespread shutdowns in March. The court had been hearing only emergency cases for most of the course of the pandemic. (Photo: Madeline Charbonneau)

As New York City housing courts reopen to hear eviction cases after being closed since March, tenants’ advocates are raising concerns that the state eviction moratorium does not do enough to protect tenants.

Housing courts in New York began hearing pre-coronavirus eviction cases not covered by the eviction moratorium at the end of July. About 1,500 eviction cases lined up from before the coronavirus pandemic are expected to be heard imminently as the courts work through the backlogged eviction filings, according to estimates from the Met Council on Housing, a tenants’ rights advocacy group. Holdover eviction cases, which are brought for any reason aside from non-payment, and non-payment cases in which the tenant cannot prove they lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic are also proceeding. An estimated 1.4 million New Yorkers have missed at least one rent payment since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Met Council Program Manager Andrea Shapiro.

“What we’re doing to tenants is truly cruel,” Shapiro said. “We’re putting them into debt. We’re having them use credit cards to pay their rent, money from family.”

While public officials have touted eviction moratoriums as a solution to a looming homelessness crisis during the pandemic, tenants’ advocates, including leaders of tenants’ rights coalitions and local community boards, say that the moratoriums do not do enough to protect tenants. The moratorium is not a stable enough solution for the eviction crisis, according to Jason Wu, a lawyer for Legal Aid, an organization which provides pro-bono legal support for residents of New York City.

“A lot of the a lot of the things that we’ve won are temporary, and they kick the can down the road,” Wu said.

Wu said he would advocate the passage of several bills that are currently on hold in the state Senate. One bill, which has been in committee since the end of March and is not yet on the floor calendar, would suspend rent payments for residential and commercial tenants who have lost employment or business and suspend mortgage payments for landlords whose tenants fall into that category. A second bill, which was introduced in March and amended in July but is not on the floor calendar, would create a rent assistance program that would give rent vouchers to eligible tenants.

The present eviction moratorium in New York, established by the Tenant Safe Harbor Act in June and extended through the end of the year on Sept. 28 by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order, protects from eviction only tenants who can prove they have lost income due to the coronavirus pandemic. Tenants who cannot prove they have lost income may be susceptible to nonpayment eviction lawsuits should they miss a rent payment, Shapiro said.

“A lot of tenants are freelancers or part of the cash economy,” Shapiro said. “It’s really hard for them to prove their income loss. Also, some people didn’t lose income but had major medical expenses.”

Holdover evictions, or eviction cases brought against tenants for any reason other than missed payment, are also not protected against under the state or CDC eviction moratoriums. However, eviction cases where judges have ruled against tenants will not be executed until at least January 2021 under Cuomo’s executive order.

While the number of eviction filings is markedly lower than in a typical year — between the middle of March and September there were only about 10,000 cases filed, down from the typical 77,000 — advocates say a more permanent solution should be put in place, such as the state senate bills.

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An estimated 8.7 million people are living in New York City. Here are their stories as told by Professor Duy Linh Tu’s reporting section at the Columbia Journalism School, class of 2021.

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Madeline Charbonneau

Madeline Charbonneau

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