Evictions reckoning: Landlord-tenant tension at breaking point

Owners blame policymakers, renters’ advocates bemoan broken system

New York /
Aug.August 31, 2021 09:16 AM
From left: Housing Justice For All's Cea Weaver, Gov. Kathy Hochul and CHIP’s Jay Martin (Getty)

From left: Housing Justice For All’s Cea Weaver, Gov. Kathy Hochul and CHIP’s Jay Martin (Getty)

New York lawmakers will determine the fate of the state’s eviction ban this week, and industry insiders say a new moratorium is a near certainty.

Insiders expect Gov. Kathy Hochul, gunning for the tenant vote in next year’s election, will push for a ban that could last through January. An extension to Oct. 31, which would be easier to get through the Assembly, is also on the table.

As tenants and landlords await the decision, their tensions are spilling out on Twitter. Less of a conversation than an ideological shouting match, the dialogue shows a mutual frustration over the financial toll of the last year and a shared confusion over who’s to blame — the policymakers, the players, or the system itself.

By and large, landlords fault the state government. Eviction bans that Albany implemented to keep tenants in their homes forced landlords to shelter many renters for nothing. Property owners argue that no one else in the private sector was asked to pick up the check during the pandemic.

“Why do landlords have to provide free labor via Eviction Moratorium, but grocery stores don’t have to provide free food?” quipped a professor on Twitter, foreshadowing a similar analogy invoked by the Supreme Court as it struck down the federal eviction ban last week (“Could the CDC, for example, mandate free grocery delivery to the homes of the sick or vulnerable?” the majority wrote.)

The point being: There is no free lunch.

Tenant groups have spent the past year and a half championing housing as a human right. The city’s chapter of the Democratic Socialists, for one, advocated for renters to remain in place regardless of their ability to pay.

The DSA criticized the Supreme Court last week for putting “the profits of landlords before the health & safety of the people once again.”

But with federal relief stalled, landlords say they are barely staying afloat.

“I know it’s in vogue to hate landlords but we are service providers,” said Ann Korchak, a representative for the group Small Property Owners of New York. She underscored that landlords can’t survive if consumers don’t pay for their services and that, in turn, hurts the city, which gets one-third of its revenue from property taxes.

Some progressives are fed up with a system that allows landlords to exist, period. They see property ownership as a way to leech income off someone else’s labor and argue that landlords who take on a mortgage they can’t afford have themselves to blame.

Real estate is an investment and thus carries risk, they say. A return is not guaranteed.

Since the pandemic began, groups like Housing Justice For All, led by campaign coordinator Cea Weaver, have been pushing to cancel rent, which would clear tenants’ arrears and put the onus on landlords to apply for relief. Others have added calls to “cancel landlords,” though most tweets stop short of an explanation.

Some arguments have devolved into non-sequiturs.

Pro-real estate groups have pointed to rising employment as proof that the moratorium has run its course. While still elevated from pre-pandemic levels, New York’s unemployment rate dipped to 7.7 percent in June, down from 8.9 percent in February, and stories abound of businesses desperate for workers.

“Two things make no sense,” wrote a Twitter user responding to a Goldman Sachs finding that 750,000 renters nationally are at risk of eviction. “Jobs are plentiful and yet 750K people can’t find one. Why will this increase COVID infections? Are all of these renters sheltering in place and harboring the virus?”

A debate over the living wage ensued. Some points were echoed by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush in a separate thread.

“When you tell someone facing eviction that they should ‘just get a job,’ remember that a full-time, minimum-wage worker can afford rent in ZERO states in America,” she tweeted. “ZERO.”

In response, Community Housing Improvement Program’s Jay Martin tweeted, “To force landlords to be responsible (which btw Cori Bush is) for carrying the entire economic burden of bad jobs policy while using real estate as a piggy bank for municipal coffers is a one way ticket to terrible housing for all of us.”

He added, “If a person couldn’t afford their rent yesterday they won’t be able to afford it tomorrow. A moratorium solves none of that.”

Some disputes have devolved into good old-fashioned political name-calling.

After Mayor Bill de Blasio labeled the Supreme Court’s conservative majority “right-wing extremists” for striking down the national moratorium, comptroller candidate Paul Rodriguez accused the mayor of pandering to “his socialist base,” before blaming de Blasio for the stalled rent relief — a state program.

And others have put their money where their mouth is.

The Rent Stabilization Association, a landlord group whose federal lawsuit eviscerated the state’s moratorium mid-month, promised to sue over any defiance of the Supreme Court’s decision that tenants cannot self-certify financial hardship at landlords’ expense.

This time, the group said, it would demand damages.

“Everyone in Albany claims they’re laser-focused on this task, yet they continue to bog down the process in politics, once again kicking the can down the road,” said its president, Joseph Strasburg. “Make no mistake, we will challenge any attempt by lawmakers to legislate an eviction moratorium that is contrary to the SCOTUS decision.”





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