One day after a judge struck down the federal eviction ban, a landlord lobby is taking aim at New York’s statewide moratorium.
The Rent Stabilization Association filed a suit Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the law, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo just extended through Aug. 31. The case seeks an injunction against the ban.
RSA, which represents 25,000 landlords, alleges that the law violates landlords’ first amendment rights by requiring them to distribute a hardship declaration form that forces them to voice their support for the moratorium.
It marks the third legal attempt by landlords against the state eviction ban in the past year. The most recent try — a February filing by five landlords against New York Attorney General Letitia James — took a near identical approach. The suit was thrown out in April, on the grounds that James wasn’t the proper party to the action.
Last June, a lawsuit claiming Gov. Cuomo’s ban was unconstitutional was also dismissed.
The five small landlords who brought the case against James, among them owners Pantelis Chrysafis, Mudan Shi and Feng Zhou, are also the plaintiffs on this attempt, which names a host of defendants, including Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks and a number of County Sheriffs.
RSA President Joseph Strasburg stressed the impact on mom-and-pop owners,who make up 70 percent of the association’s members, many of whom are immigrants.
“Our clients, as small property owners, have suffered like so many others during this pandemic, and now, they are being crushed by the unconstitutional burdens that the State has imposed on them,” Strasburg said.
While landlords have had to keep up with property taxes, mortgages and building maintenance throughout the pandemic, Strasburg said the government has insulated tenants from unpaid bills.
“There already are comprehensive eviction protections in place for Covid hardship-impacted tenants,” he said, pointing to the State’s Tenant Safe Harbor Act and the $2.35 billion in rent relief, plus 12 months of eviction protection coming to tenants through the state budget.
The protections afforded by the Safe Harbor Act, which last until Covid-related restrictions on non-essential business come to an end, may soon expire. Gov. Cuomo announced Monday that he would lift caps on business capacities May 19, though social distancing mandates would remain in place. Mayor Bill de Blasio had projected a full reopening come July 1.
In the same vein, the rent relief program, which guarantees eviction protection for paying tenants, doesn’t shield those who stop paying rent.
“If the landlord accepts a year back rent, and then the tenant doesn’t pay going forward. The landlord can bring a case against the tenant,” the Legal Aid Society’s Ellen Davidson said.
Challenges to state and federal moratoriums have so far been unsuccessful. Most recently, a federal court in the District of Columbia struck down the Centers for Disease Control’s national moratorium before putting a temporary hold on the ruling while the Department of Justice sought an appeal.