A state bill extending eviction protections for some tenants — but allowing money judgments for nonpayment of rent — was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday evening.
The Tenant Safe Harbor Act, sponsored by Sens. Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger and Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz, prohibits evictions of eligible tenants if any part of the county is still shut down by government as a result of Covid-19.
“Now that the Tenant Safe Harbor Act has been signed into law, those New Yorkers most affected financially during this pandemic will have immediate protection from eviction,” said Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat. “No single law can single-handedly solve the eviction crisis, but [this] is a crucial step to address the looming tidal wave of evictions.”
The bill would extend eviction protection to tenants by allowing them to use Covid-related financial hardship as a defense in eviction proceedings. While the bill does not specify the criteria for determining hardship, it instructs the court to examine a tenant’s income history, liquid assets and government assistance such as food stamps and unemployment benefits.
The bill does not waive rents, but buys time for tenants to stay in their homes.
“Landlords would still be able to obtain money judgments for unpaid rent that accrued during that time period, but tenants would remain stably located in the meantime,” the bill’s explanation reads.
Some attorneys for landlords have said they would prefer the measure to proposed alternatives, as it would provide more certainty around evictions than the courts currently do, and would allow landlords to bring claims for unpaid rent. But others call it a “short-term fix,” cooked up by lawmakers to score points with progressive constituents.
“The passage of the act would be a disaster for landlords specifically and the city in general,” said Nativ Winiarsky, an attorney at Kucker, Marino, Winiarsky and Bittens. “Landlords would have meaningless paper money judgments against individuals, many of whom may be judgment-proof, while still obligated to incur the expense of providing services and benefits to occupants who fail to pay rent for months on end.”
“Judgment-proof” is a term lawyers use for someone with no assets to lose in a lawsuit.
Many tenant advocates did not support the legislation either, largely because it does not waive any rent, as would other bills that failed to pass. They say it will leave tenants with insurmountable debt.
But the Legal Aid Society, which provides legal assistance to low-income tenants, on Monday hosted a Zoom conference with lawmakers to call on Cuomo to sign the legislation that reached his desk.