Landlords challenge state eviction ban — the sequel

Suit says new moratorium steps into “unconstitutional shoes” of previous one

New York /
Sep.September 09, 2021 05:56 PM
RSA President Joe Strasburg and Chief Judge Lawrence Marks (Getty)

RSA President Joe Strasburg and the defendant in its lawsuit, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks (Getty)

You can put lipstick on an unconstitutional eviction ban, but landlords will still take it to court.

In the vicious cycle of New York’s eviction protections, a new state ban, signed into law a week ago, is back in federal court over claims that it still denies landlords due process.

Landlord group the Rent Stabilization Association, a plaintiff in the suit, had challenged the state’s previous ban on the same grounds — and won. The U.S. Supreme Court gutted that moratorium last month.

When lawmakers gathered to craft new protections last week, they had the tricky task of circumventing the high court’s demand that landlords get a chance to contest tenants’ claims of hardship — while still keeping tenants out of court.

But RSA says they failed. Its legal challenge says the new ban rehashes the mistakes of the old one.

“This latest extension, while tweaked at the margins, has simply stepped into the unconstitutional shoes” of the previous eviction ban, says the suit, whose plaintiffs include the same landlords as the last challenge: Pantelis Chrysafis, Betty S. Cohen, Brandie Lacasse, Mudan Shi and Feng Zhou.

The new law allows landlords to contest a tenant’s hardship declaration by making a “good faith” claim that the hardship certification does not exist.

The suit argues that despite this shift, the legislation left in place many of the features that violate the premise that “no man can be a judge in his own case.” Among them: Tenants don’t need to show proof of hardship apart from checking a box, and the categories for hardship are vague.

Plus, making landlords swear “under penalty of perjury” that a hardship declaration does not exist in order to contest the form “continues to bar the courthouse doors to property owners,” the complaint adds.

As an example, the suit cites the experience of co-plaintiff Mudan Shi, whose tenants have not paid rent in over 27 months, won’t speak to her and changed their phone number so she can’t reach them.

“She has no way of knowing ‘their financial or health situation since the pandemic’ and certainly ‘cannot swear under penalty of perjury whether or not [her] tenants have been facing any of these alleged hardships during the pandemic,’” the suit says.

The state’s tactics in amending previous legislation, the suit says, are straight out of the Biden administration’s playbook, which “nominally amended” a ban that the Supreme Court had already struck down.

“It didn’t work in the CDC case,” the lawsuit argues, “and it shouldn’t be given any credence here either.”





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