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NY lawmakers extend pause on evictions, with new exceptions

New York Now

Tenants in New York who can’t pay rent because of lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be protected from eviction until the middle of next January after the state Legislature approved an extension of the state’s pause on evictions Wednesday evening.

The law was also amended to allow landlords to challenge their tenants’ claims of financial hardship in court to comply with a recent ruling on the measure from the U.S. Supreme Court.

Now, landlords will be able to ask a judge to rule on whether a tenant’s financial condition should protect them from eviction. That’s different from before, when tenants were able to avoid eviction by declaring a financial hardship without question.

“Now, the landlord gets to have a hearing,” said Sen. Kevin Thomas, a Democrat from Long Island. “I think that goes a long way, and the landlord has a say in court now.”

There are a few exceptions; landlords will now be allowed to start eviction proceedings against a tenant if they intentionally cause damage to the property, or create a nuisance. That could be set in motion regardless of a tenant’s financial condition.

At the same time, lawmakers expanded eligibility for the state’s rent relief program for tenants, and added more funding.

Some local governments in New York opted to create their own rent relief programs, rather than participate in what the state set up in April. Now, tenants in those localities will be eligible to apply to the state’s program, opening more doors for relief.

Tenants who qualify for the state’s program could have up to 12 months paid in rent arrears, with the possibility of three additional months. Those approved for the program are also safe from eviction for up to a year.

That money goes straight to landlords, rather than having tenants act as the middle-man. That’s designed to provide relief directly for property owners, many of whom have struggled to keep up with costs throughout the pause on evictions.

“What we’re doing today is not preventing people from collecting rent,” said Sen. Brian Kavanagh, who chairs the Senate Housing Committee. “The rent is becoming due and we are working very hard to ensure we have programs that are adequate to pay that rent so landlords have their expenses covered.”

But landlords said Wednesday that the state’s rent relief program wasn’t enough. They argued that the extension of the moratorium would provide a disincentive for tenants to pay their rent, even if they have the resources to do so.

“The blanket policies tend to create, and maybe incentivize behavior that’s not desirable,” said Lisa Damiani, who represents a coalition of property owners in Western New York. “Let’s let the systems work. Let’s let the process work.”

Republicans echoed that argument Wednesday, saying the Legislature should focus on expediting relief payments for landlords, rather than continue the pause on evictions.

“If we're trying to solve the crisis, we have the tools to do it, we have a program with over $1 billion that we can get out the door into people's hands still. But we're not doing that,” said Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt. “We're just kicking the can down the road.”

Until Tuesday evening, tenants and landlords were left in limbo with the state’s eviction moratorium expected to expire at midnight.

That was until Gov. Kathy Hochul, in an evening press conference, signed a proclamation calling the Legislature back into session to address the end of the moratorium. By then, the broad strokes of a deal had been cemented.

But bill language wasn’t made available to the public until Tuesday afternoon, just hours before it received approval from both chambers of the Legislature.

That’s not unusual in Albany. Controversial legislation is often introduced hours before it receives a vote. That’s a process that’s often criticized by good government groups, as well as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

It was particularly thorny on Wednesday because lawmakers were also set to consider a change to the state’s Open Meetings Law, which essentially guarantees public access to meetings held by government entities.

The change, which is temporary and expires in January, will allow public bodies — excluding the state Legislature — to hold virtual meetings due to the pandemic, but will also allow those entities to forego in-person meetings where the public could participate.

Lawmakers also confirmed two nominees from Gov. Kathy Hochul to lead New York’s marijuana legalization roll-out.

Former Assemblymember Tremaine Wright, who represented part of Brooklyn, will lead the state’s Cannabis Control Board, which will regulate the industry, while Christopher Alexander was confirmed to lead the new state Office of Cannabis Management.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan who helped spearhead legislation to legalize the drug, said she was confident in the leadership of those nominees to lead the state’s program.

“I think they're both excellent recommendation nominees,” Krueger said. “It’s a valuable thing to do for the state of New York and so many different communities and people will be positively affected.”

Lawmakers aren’t expected back to Albany again until January, when the new legislative session is scheduled to begin.

Dan Clark is the host and producer of New York NOW, a weekly television show focusing on state government produced by WMHT in Albany. Clark has been reporting on New York state government and politics for the last six years, during which time he's worked out of the state Capitol in Albany. Clark reported for the national political fact-checking publication PolitiFact, the Buffalo News, the statewide political television show Capital Tonight, and most recently the New York Law Journal. At the New York Law Journal, Clark has focused on state legal challenges to President Donald Trump, as well as litigation concerning laws enacted by the New York State Legislature. Clark covered the Legislature in each role he's held and is a familiar face to state lawmakers and staff. Clark is a native of Afton, NY in Chenango County. He's lived in Albany with his husband since 2011.