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Politics and Government

How NY lawmakers would have to fix the eviction moratorium

For Rent sign
Mark Moz
/
flickr
For Rent sign in front of a house.

With New York’s eviction moratorium set to expire Tuesday, members of the state Legislature are considering a return to Albany to extend that relief — but it’s not as simple as coming back to pass an extension.

Gov. Kathy Hochul confirmed in a statement that she's in talks with leaders from the Legislature on a potential special session next week to address the deadline, particularly after the federal eviction moratorium was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

"I am in talks with the Senate Majority Leader and Assembly Speaker to call a special session to address the impending eviction crisis, given the Supreme Court's decision," Hochul said. "Our teams will be working through the weekend to address how best to deliver relief to renters and homeowners in need as quickly as possible."

If they return to Albany to address the problem, Democrats, who control both chambers of the state Legislature, would have to grapple with a separate decision from the court this month that struck down part of the state's eviction moratorium, which is independent of the now-ended federal moratorium.

That case was brought by a handful of landlords from New York, who argued that they’d been denied due process by the state’s eviction moratorium because they had to accept claims of a tenant’s financial hardship blindly, without proof.

While earlier versions of New York’s eviction moratorium were enacted by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the COVID-19 pandemic, the most recent iteration was included in a bill approved by the state Legislature this year.

The law has allowed tenants to avoid eviction by filing a financial hardship form provided by the state to either their landlord, or to the court if a proceeding has already started.

The landlords argued that the process didn’t give them an opportunity to question a tenant’s financial hardship, particularly since New York declared the COVID disaster over in June. The Supreme Court sided with them in an unsigned order.

“The Supreme Court basically said the way the process has been set up … there’s nowhere in the process where a landlord can say that’s not true,” said Christine Quinn, the former speaker of the New York City Council who now runs homeless services provider Win.

Quinn, speaking on New York NOW, said the Legislature would have to amend the law to conform to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Basically, lawmakers would have to provide a mechanism that would allow landlords to appear in court and try to rebut their tenants’ claims of financial hardship. Then, it would be up to the court to decide on eviction, rather than a presumptive safety net.

“All that would have to happen is that the Legislature would have to introduce a piece of legislation, which would say there has to be a hearing to confirm that the situation, or the condition that the tenant says they’re in, they’re really in,” Quinn said.

Without that amended piece of legislation, stakeholders in the debate over housing say thousands of tenants could be evicted from their homes in the coming weeks. Landlords can’t evict tenants the day the moratorium expires, but they can start the process.

As of Friday afternoon, legislation hadn’t been introduced to extend the eviction moratorium and amend it to comply with the court’s ruling.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. There are already rumblings of a possible return to Albany next week to consider an extension, and it wouldn’t be unusual for the bill to be introduced shortly before it receives a vote.

Typically, legislation in New York has to wait three days after it’s introduced to be passed. But Gov. Kathy Hochul could issue what’s called a message of necessity to waive that waiting period, referred to as aging.

Republicans in the state Legislature, meanwhile, called on the Hochul administration and leaders from the state court system to consider ways to speed up the distribution of rent relief in New York. That's federal money that was given to the state months ago, but hasn't been distributed in full. About $1 billion is still available for tenants and landlords.

In a letter to the Hochul administration and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt and Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay said there are ways the state could break the logjam.

Among their recommendations were to have housing courts open and active, strengthen coordination between the courts and the Hochul administration to approve more applicants for the relief, and to have regional on-site staff in areas of the state where evictions may be more likely.

“There is little doubt that these actions will help move funding out the door,” they wrote. “These proposals are common-sense solutions to real life problems for New Yorkers facing housing instability."