Albany Times Union
Tenants, landlords prep for law’s end
Eviction moratorium expires next month but protection still available
The state’s eviction moratorium, first enacted in 2020, is set to expire next month.
Although landlords will be able to see movement on eviction cases, there are still steps tenants can take to protect themselves from losing their residences.
State laws that include the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, a permanent legal defense, and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program allow someone to petition a court to prevent the eviction of individuals that experienced financial hardship during the pandemic and provide them rent relief.
Only judges can authorize eviction proceedings to commence, meaning that tenants will not immediately be forced out of their residences. Those who applied for ERAP before the portal closed in November are entitled to wait for a final decision on their application before being evicted.
Unless the portal reopens, tenants can no longer apply. The Legal Aid Society sued the state seeking to reopen the application process.
“It’s an easy thing for them to do,” Edward Josephson, an attorney with Legal Services NYC, wrote in a post on The Legal Aid Society’s website. “Denying New Yorkers the ability to apply for desperately needed rent relief during the pandemic is cruel and will only exacerbate the public health and economic crisis.”
Advocates urge tenants being threatened by landlords to vacate their properties to refrain from self-evicting. “If your landlord is demanding that you leave your apartment and you have nowhere to go, you should stay,” said Cea Weaver, a campaign coordinator with Housing Justice For All.
There’s potential for tenants to obtain remedies in court that may not be made available to them while dealing one-on
one with a landlord. But there’s no guarantee renters will be allowed to remain in their homes.
Approximately 225,448 eviction cases are active across the state, with 200,000 resulting from nonpayment, according to a system that tracks that data managed by the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. Before the pandemic, the number of eviction cases was just over 150,000.
Hundreds of eviction cases have been filed in the Capital Region since March 2020, according to tracker data. A total of 989 have been processed in Albany, 747 in Troy and 893 in Schenectady. The cities of Cohoes and Watervliet also had at least 100 filings.
Advocates worry not enough has been done to educate the public about options, especially the existence of ERAP program. Some anticipate a wave of evictions as a result.
Another option might be an influx of federal funding for rent relief, but it’s not certain that money will be made available. A spokesperson for Gov. Kathy Hochul declined to say whether the governor is considering extending the moratorium.
“Housing issues both immediate and systemic will be a major priority for Governor Hochul heading into the 2022 legislative session,” said Jim Urso, a spokesman for the governor, citing the significant state and federal funds that have been devoted to rent relief.
“We look forward to partnering with the Legislature, advocacy groups and local governmental leaders to address both short- and long-term housing issues.”
On Tuesday, the state announced a new program for people at risk of foreclosures, default or displacement due to the pandemic.
The New York State Homeowner Assistance Fund will begin accepting applications Monday and processing them on a firstcome, first-served basis. According to the program’s website, the state is expecting more applications than the program can fund.
Therefore, homeowners are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Submitting an application does not guarantee an applicant will receive financial assistance. The state Office of Court Administration and the homeowner assistance fund did not immediately respond to requests for data on the number of pending foreclosures in New York.
Those who qualify for the program include individuals behind on their mortgage, in default on a reverse mortgage, or in arrears on water or other utility bills. Others qualify if they have delinquent property tax bills, monthly maintenance chargers to co-ops or condos, chattel loans, installment contracts or home purchase loans or lot rent.
Homeowners can receive financial support to resolve delinquent housing payments, access to a call center, case managers who can help them with mortgage relief and referrals to professional counselors or legal services.
For property owners, the end of the moratorium means the courts will be able to resume eviction proceedings. Landlords should be doing everything they can now to make sure their cases are placed on the court calendar early in the new year, said Deborah Pusatere, president of the New York Capital Region Apartment Association.
That means filing or distributing all necessary forms, such as the COVID -19 hardship form, the service provider form and a landlord attestation affidavit form.
Key documents landlords need to commence an eviction:
Landlords can contact their local courthouse for more information about necessary documents that need to be served.
Five-day and 14-day notices need to be given to tenants before a landlord can submit a case. Property owners can’t file in court until after the 14-day period has expired.
If a property owner has tried to serve a tenant in person at least three times, a notice can be sent through certified mail. Tenants need to be notified between 10 and 17 days of a court proceeding.
The average time frame to get someone removed from a property is three months, Pusatere said. If the appropriate steps aren’t taken, a judge may dismiss the case. A property owner would then need to start the process again.
Multiple nonprofits are ready to assist anyone struggling as the eviction moratorium expires.
United Tenants of Albany, Law Services of Western New York and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley offer legal advice.
Landlords in Albany needing help can reach out to the New York Capital Region Apartment Association.