Chief Judge Pauses Execution of Eviction Warrants Until October
On Aug. 12, 2020, New York State Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued a memorandum revising the procedure for both residential and commercial eviction proceedings. This guidance comes a week after Governor Cuomo issued Executive Order 202.55 extending New York’s eviction moratorium and the state’s protections for tenants who have faced financial hardships related to COVID-19 by 30 days, through Sept. 4. The memorandum also follows the passage of the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which prevents a court from issuing an eviction warrant against tenants who have experienced COVID-related distress.
Eviction proceedings filed after March 17, 2020. According to the memorandum, these eviction proceedings, whether residential or commercial, will continue to be suspended.
Residential evictions filed before March 17, 2020. These may resume with a few conditions. For residential evictions filed before March 17, 2020, the court must hold a status or settlement conference. This requirement applies in all matters at any stage of the eviction process, including any matter where a warrant of eviction has been issued and delivered to an enforcement agent but hasn’t yet been executed.
At the conference, the court will review possible means of relief, COVID-19 concerns, and other matters related to the case. The court will:
- Review the procedural history of the matter;
- Confirm compliance with notice requirements;
- Inquire into the effects, if any, that the COVID-19 pandemic has had upon the parties;
- Review any special relief under state or federal law to which the parties may be entitled in light of the pandemic, including the New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act;
- Refer unrepresented parties to local civil legal service providers and housing counseling agencies;
- Assess any pending and anticipated motions;
- Approve briefing schedules proposed by stipulation of the parties; and
- Use best efforts (including referral to alternative dispute resolution) to resolve any outstanding issues.
After the conference, if the court allows the matter to proceed, the eviction will be scheduled (or rescheduled) to take place no sooner than Oct. 1, 2020. And the memorandum points out that future state or federal eviction moratoriums could extend that date.
Commercial evictions. If your residential building has commercial tenants, note that, according to the memo, commercial evictions filed before March 17, 2020, may proceed unless the tenant has unemployment insurance or is protected by the federal or state laws barring action against tenants facing financial hardship from the COVID-19 pandemic. Note that the pause on commercial eviction proceedings from COVID-related financial hardships lasted only through Aug. 19, 2020.
Form notice to respondent tenants. The memo contains the notice you must include in the commencement papers or petitions in eviction proceedings pursuant to Article 7 of the Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law. The notice informs respondent tenants that they may be eligible for an extension of time to respond due to the pandemic. The following notice must be used if filing for eviction within New York City:
NOTICE TO RESPONDENT TENANT
DURING THE CORONAVIRUS EMERGENCY, YOU MIGHT BE ENTITLED BY LAW TO TAKE ADDITIONAL DAYS OR WEEKS TO FILE AN ANSWER TO THIS PETITION.
PLEASE CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY FOR MORE INFORMATION.
IF YOU DON'T HAVE AN ATTORNEY, PLEASE CALL
Remotely held proceedings. Judge Marks’ memorandum also makes clear that all eviction proceedings should be held remotely whenever the court deems it appropriate for the health, safety, and convenience of the participants.
Proposed Legislation for When Eviction Protections Expire
While residential evictions remain on hold in New York until at least Oct. 1, even as proceedings for cases filed before the pandemic begin to move forward, state lawmakers have been active in considering and legislating tenant protections.
The Tenant Safe Harbor Act, signed into law in June, prohibits courts from ever evicting residential tenants who experienced financial hardship for nonpayment of rent that accrues or becomes due during the COVID-19 period. It’s important to note that this law doesn’t waive rents for that period. A renter can’t be evicted because they missed rent during that time, but an owner can still seek a money judgment to recuperate any unpaid rent.
Housing advocates have been applying additional pressure on state legislators to enact additional protections for when the current eviction protections expire. The following bills are in the early stages of the legislative process:
The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020. Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and Senator Julia Salazar introduced The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020 on July 10, 2020. It proposes to cancel residential rent payments and mortgages for small homeowners (owners of residential properties with six or fewer units) accrued between March 7, 2020, and the end of New York’s ongoing state of emergency, plus an additional 90 days.
The bill would prohibit typical consequences for residential tenants’ nonpayment of rent, including fines or fees for nonpayment; termination of tenancy, eviction proceedings, or civil judgments; accrual of debt; and reporting to a tenant screening agency or consumer reporting agency. Nonpayment of rent would not adversely affect tenants’ credit scores, and it would not be grounds for denying any future application for rental housing.
The bill would prohibit similar consequences for small homeowners’ nonpayment of mortgage payments of principal or interest. Small homeowners wouldn’t be subject to foreclosure actions due to nonpayment, and wouldn’t incur fees, penalties, or additional interest during the COVID-19 cancellation period.
The bill would create a government-funded repayment scheme for landlords. Owners that can demonstrate they lost maintenance or rental income during the COVID-19 cancellation period would be able to apply to the state to recoup those amounts. The bill would establish a “landlord relief fund” to reimburse landlords for all cancelled rent payments, contingent on a five-year freeze on rent increases for tenants, and a commitment not to evict tenants without good cause. Both funds and reimbursement processes would be administered by the State Commissioner of Housing and Community Renewal.
The Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act doesn’t place hardship qualifications on the cancellation of rent or mortgage payments. The proposed bill would issue a blanket cancellation of rent or mortgage payments in the designated COVID-19 period.
Emergency Housing Stability and Tenant Displacement Prevention Act. Brooklyn Senator Zellnor Myrie has introduced legislation that would prevent all eviction and foreclosure filings for commercial and residential tenants until a year after any part of Governor Cuomo’s statewide disaster emergency is still in place. In effect, this legislation, if passed, would extend the eviction moratorium for the length of the crisis plus an additional year.
The bill would prohibit the enforcement of an eviction of any residential or commercial tenant during that period. It would also prohibit the issuance of a judgment of possession (that is, an order from a judge that favors the owner) against a residential, commercial, or other lawful tenant, or a foreclosure of any residential or commercial property for the covered period. This bill is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.
Housing Access Voucher Program Bill. This bill is sponsored by Brooklyn and Manhattan state Senator Brian Kavanagh. The bill is currently in the Housing, Construction, and Community Development Committee, which Kavanagh chairs. The bill proposes to establish a housing access voucher program, under the purview of the state’s DHCR, to provide housing vouchers for eligible individuals and families who are homeless or who face an imminent loss of housing. The Housing Trust Fund Corporation would oversee the program, and state and local public housing agencies would administer it.
The bill proposes vouchers that would cover the cost of market-rate units that such tenants would be otherwise unable to afford. Although a similar program already exists through Section 8 vouchers, the Housing Access Voucher Program would be the first of its kind to include protection for undocumented Americans as well. The bill aims to distribute vouchers equally between housing insecure renters and homeless New Yorkers. Its proponents hope that providing direct housing assistance will ease the burden on shelters and provide protection to the homeless.