From Erie to Ulster: the push to ban evictions

Nassau and Ulster counties are the latest to enact such measures

TRD NEW YORK /
Mar.March 15, 2020 08:00 AM
At least half a dozen localities across New York are pushing for — or have already enacted — an eviction ban. More are sure to follow, political insiders say.

At least half a dozen localities across New York are pushing for — or have already enacted — an eviction ban. More are sure to follow, political insiders say.

At least half a dozen localities across New York are pushing for — or have already enacted — an eviction ban. More are sure to follow, political insiders say.

The patchwork effort across New York to halt evictions is coming from community groups and local elected officials in Albany, Erie County, Syracuse, Tompkins County, Ulster County and Nassau County. Eviction moratorium bills have now been introduced by both the state senate and assembly, and state Sen. Brad Hoylman sent a letter signed by two dozen of his colleagues asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve the measure. A New York state judge, late Friday afternoon, placed a one-week moratorium on executing evictions in New York City — although cases will proceed in housing court, according to a court spokesperson. Just hours later, the Real Estate Board of New York announced its members — including some of the largest landlords in the city — would not carry out evictions for three months.

Cuomo has not said whether he supports a moratorium on evictions.

REBNY circulated a pledge vowing to halt evictions for 90 days, signed by two dozen members — many of which own portfolios consisting mostly of market-rate units. Those firms, with few exceptions, are typically not the firms who process evictions in housing court. They are also better-positioned to withstand a pause in rent payments than smaller rental landlords.

Tenant advocates say the move by many of New York City’s top luxury and retail landlords is insincere and may stall efforts to enact a moratorium at the state level.

“It’s a total publicity stunt that takes the pressure off the Governor, which isn’t surprising,” said Cea Weaver, coordinator for the tenant coalition Housing Justice for All. “Those are Cuomo’s people.”

But calls for an eviction moratorium across the state show no sign of slowing down.

On Thursday, in Ulster county, after the first coronavirus case was reported, the Sheriff’s office suspended evictions for 14 days. Nassau County followed suit the next day with an indefinite ban.

“I am suspending eviction enforcement in Nassau County effective immediately,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran wrote in a tweet. “It would be both wrong and dangerous to kick people out of their homes during this public health emergency.”

In Ithaca, Anna Kelles, the Tompkins county legislature chair of the housing and economic development committee, said she will introduce an eviction moratorium this week. Her measure will include consideration for smaller landlords who may not be able to make mortgage payments if their renters are unable to pay rent.

“We have a lot of small landlords. So [an eviction moratorium] really needs to not destroy their livelihood or destabilize them either,” Kelles said. “There needs to be a moratorium on foreclosures as well.”

Trade associations representing smaller landlords have voiced concerns over an eviction moratorium without additional measures. Without foreclosure protection or financial assistance, landlords with smaller margins will be exposed, should their renters cease to pay.

Jaime Cain, coalition leader of Under One Roof New York, an umbrella group that includes some 1,500 upstate and New York City landlords, including the Community Housing Improvement Program and the New York Capital Region Apartment Association, pointed out that with no moratorium on foreclosures, landlords continue to have to pay their lenders.

“Unless the state or federal government is willing to step in and assist small business property owners with paying their workers, mortgages, utilities, insurance, and other operating costs, these proposals … will lead to small businesses having to lay off employees and file for bankruptcy protection,” said Cain. “If small business property owners were subjected to a stay for any length of time, this will mean a loss of half a year of income.”

Officials and organizers from other counties and municipalities that are pushing for eviction moratoriums underscored the connection between public health and the need for secure housing.

“With every eviction there’s an increased likelihood of infection, which means a more severe hospital surge,” said Drew Friedfertig, a Buffalo attorney who is the coordinator of his city’s chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild. Friedfertig is affiliated with a group in Buffalo — Buffalo Community Solidarity Response — that is pushing not only for a moratorium on evictions in Erie county, but a halt to foreclosures, late fees associated with rent payments and a rent bank to ensure renters are able to pay even if they are unable to work.

In Albany, the call for a ban on evictions is coming from Councilman Owusu Anane, who was elected to represent the 10th ward in 2018. “We do not need to be creating homelessness and making more residents of our county susceptible to this virus by being out in the street,” Anane said in a statement to The Real Deal.

Community organizers in Syracuse are also pushing for a moratorium on evictions for the 34,000 households who rent, according to latest census estimates.

“Landlords, the good ones, are cognizant,” said Maurice Brown, of the New York Progressive Action Network, who is pushing with others in Syracuse for a moratorium on evictions by pressuring local legislators. “[Those landlords] don’t want to lose good renters because of this crisis.”

Evicting tenants during a public health crisis is sure to raise eyebrows. But Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, said that without financial assistance in addition to an eviction ban, such a measure could lead to more financial distress.

“We understand that people’s jobs, and their ability to pay rent, won’t be there,” Strasburg said. “But are banks going to say, ‘don’t worry about the mortgage?’ It’s well-intentioned, but it needs to be more comprehensive.”


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