New York City’s eviction machine has taken the first step toward a return to normalcy.
Though new eviction cases still can’t be filed, a new court directive issued Tuesday indicates that eviction conferences, or negotiations facilitated by a judge, can resume virtually. That has resulted in hundreds of such conferences being scheduled across the boroughs, according to a spokesperson for the court. The ruling would apply to cases where both sides are represented, if either side requests it.
“This is an important step forward, as we work, in today’s highly challenging environment, to facilitate the resolution of these critical Housing Court matters and promote a fair process for all litigants,” Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said in a statement.
The statement acknowledged that the courts are preparing for an “influx of new eviction cases on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic.” By restarting pending cases, the court hopes to reduce the expected bottleneck of cases when evictions start back up in August.
Landlords’ attorneys praised the move as important but underscored its limitations. The new directive does not allow landlords to file new eviction proceedings, which were halted by a March 15 state order. The order was later extended through August, with some big caveats.
“Continuing to bottle up new cases will only serve to intensify the ‘flood of cases’ that is a rightful concern,” said Sherwin Belkin, an attorney at Belkin Burden Goldman. He said it was important to distinguish between eviction cases that arise from coronavirus-related financial distress, and those that arise from unrelated financial distress – something that the state also mandated in its extension order. (It is unclear from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order how such financial hardship should be documented, and courts have yet to issue further guidance.)
Tenant attorneys and organizers argue the ruling will only serve to increase uncertainty among New Yorkers.
Rima Begum, a tenant organizer for Chhaya CDC, a group that organizes South Asian tenants in Queens, said that the conflicting messages from the courts and Cuomo are adding to confusion for renters whose native language may not be English. Her group has been working to translate government orders into Bengali.
“I’m not just thinking about the Bangladeshi tenants and how we took so much time and effort to translate so many materials that the state and city can’t — or won’t — translate,” said Begum. “I’m thinking about how confusing this is going to be for so many people.”