The Real Estate Board of New York doesn’t think the City Council has the legal authority to bar city sheriffs and marshals from recovering property or executing money judgments against tenants.
But that’s exactly what the City Council is seeking to do in a new bill. The measure would effectively extend the state’s eviction ban through at least Sept. 30, and through April 2021 for tenants affected by Covid-19. REBNY argued on Tuesday that only the state can halt such actions.
“It is a misguided and conceivably, unlawful basis by the Council to usurp state authority,” Ryan Monell, director of city legislative affairs for REBNY, said in written testimony submitted to the city Council.
Testifying during a Council committee hearing on Tuesday, Sheriff Joseph Fucito said the Council bill wouldn’t prevent sheriffs and marshals from abiding court orders to remove a tenant from a property or enforce money judgments.
“I’m not a heartless bill collector, but an officer of the court,” Fucito said. The Office of the Sheriff is a division of the City Finance Department.
Even if the state were to implement a similar policy as proposed by the city, REBNY claims that it could discourage tenants who are financially stable from paying rent.
“The economic consequences of this misimpression could lead to widespread mortgage default, decreased property tax collection, and a subsequent decline in necessary city services for quality of life for tenants across the city,” according to the testimony.
Housing and Building Committee Chair Robert Cornegy said the city has a “delicate balance to strike” between providing renters relief and ensuring that small landlords are protected. Michael McKee, treasurer of the Tenants Political Action Committee, noted that “mom and pop” landlords need protection.
“We think the big landlords like Blackstone can take a haircut,” he said during the hearing.
Though much of the hearing hinged on a disagreement over the city’s legal authority, there seemed to be consensus about the need for further action on the part of higher levels of government.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson noted that the state and federal government need to step in to provide relief to renters — in the form of canceling rent — as proposed by state legislators — and federal relief for landlords. For now, though, the state’s eviction moratorium is slated to expire mid-June, and signs from the federal government on New York’s slice of the next relief package haven’t been promising.
“There’s no means of subsidizing without federal intervention,” Councilmember Ritchie Torres said. “In the absence of federal support, what is the exit strategy from this nightmare?”
Write to Kathryn Brenzel at [email protected]