A New York state judge dismissed a challenge to eviction limits, and asserted the court’s ability to issue such orders in the future.
The plaintiffs, three landlords in Westchester County, New York, sought to block Judge Lawrence Marks’ administrative order which, until Oct. 1, halted all evictions statewide. That order was superseded by state and federal rules, which nullified the petition, according to State Supreme Court Judge David Zuckerman’s ruling.
In his decision, Zuckerman affirmed the court system’s power to take similar actions in the future, and resolved a legal quandary that arose when language in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order conflicted with the law he sought to modify.
Specifically, Cuomo’s executive order, which bars execution of judgments or warrants of evictions, modified the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which sought to bar issuance, rather than the enforcement of evictions. To resolve the difference, Zuckerman ruled that the order modified the law by “specifically barring execution or enforcement of all judgments or warrants of eviction until January 1, 2021.”
“The courts have the right and duty to protect their employees and the public during a public health emergency,” Zuckerman wrote in the ruling.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs did not return a request for comment.
Landlord groups have said that limiting evictions without providing rent subsidies or reducing taxes places an unfair burden on property owners when tenants can no longer afford to pay rent. While residential evictions in New York can now proceed, as of Oct. 12, they are limited by the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which bars evictions if a tenant can document financial distress during or prior to coronavirus pandemic. They are also limited by federal restrictions implemented in September.
Earlier this year, when Marks issued orders to delay eviction proceedings, he struck a “fair and legal balance between the rights of landlords to pursue the remedy of eviction” and the “prospect of the courts filling with potentially infected litigants,” according to Zuckerman’s decision.
The CDC rule, which some tenants can raise as a defense against an eviction, can be superseded by a more restrictive local law. But because the federal protections exceeded those of New York State at the time it was implemented, it made not only the state administrative orders limiting evictions irrelevant, it also made pointless any challenges to the administrative orders.
Roland Nimis, a supervising housing attorney at Legal Services NYC who does eviction defense work in the Bronx, said that he hopes Zuckerman’s decision will encourage courts to “be confident in their own power to make rules,” both in New York and across the country, where landlord groups have filed similar challenges to eviction limits.
“Tenants are having to choose between their health, and rejoining the economy to pay rent and protect the health of their family by not being evicted,” said Nimis. “It’s an impossible choice, and one they shouldn’t have to make.”