As noted in an earlier entry, last month the Governor issued a 90-day moratorium against evictions, which is now set to expire June 20, 2020. This protects tenants who had already been sued and had evictions scheduled. As of now, those tenants are at risk of eviction after that date.
For tenants unable to pay their rent, the moratorium as currently imposed is irrelevant. These tenants are, however, protected by the fact that the courts are closed, except for emergency matters. It is unknown when they will open for new non-emergency filings but, once they do, tenants behind on their rent are subject to being hauled into Housing Court.
Help, however, may be on the way. Several state legislators have proposed a new bill, The NYS Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which would extend the moratorium against evictions for nonpayment of rent for six months after the COVID-19 state of emergency formally ends. Several important caveats about the bill:
First, it has yet to pass. While tenants and their supporters are behind the bill, it remains to be seen if it can get through both houses of the legislature and garner the signature of Governor Cuomo.
Second, this bill would not extinguish a tenant’s obligation to pay rent. It merely eliminates, temporarily, a landlord’s ability to evict a tenant for nonpayment. A landlord would still be free to sue a tenant in a “plenary action” and obtain a money judgment, which it would then be able to enforce by, for example, attaching a bank account or garnishing wages.
Third, the bill would not prevent a landlord from commencing a Housing Court eviction case on grounds other than nonpayment of rent. This type of case, called a “holdover,” could be based on expiration of a month-to-month tenancy or termination of lease alleging a breach such as nuisance, subletting without permission or nonprimary residence.
This is not the only bill pending in Albany seeking to protect tenants. There are, for instance, proposals to cancel rent. Even given the pro-tenant leanings of the legislature, it’s difficult to imagine it would pass, and the Governor will sign, a bill eliminating rental obligations. Realistically, the TSHA is probably tenants’ best hope.