New state bill to cancel rent, mortgages

Backers admit it would face steep opposition from Cuomo

Yuh-Line Niou (Facebook)
Yuh-Line Niou (Facebook)

A Manhattan Assembly member has proposed a new bill to cancel rent and some mortgage payments.

In a twist from other such bills, the one would provide some money to landlords.

The “Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act of 2020” is sponsored by Democrat Yuh-line Niou, a pro-tenant firebrand who has also championed “good cause” eviction. Her legislation, carried by real estate nemesis Sen. Julia Salazar in the state Senate, would cancel rent for tenants, and mortgages for small homeowners, as long as the statewide emergency lasts, plus 90 days.

The measure would prevent landlords from dinging tenants’ credit during the cancel-rent period and would also bar fees and fines related to nonpayment, as well as block evictions for non-payment. Small homeowners’ mortgage payments would also be canceled. Housing co-operatives that can demonstrate financial distress could apply for assistance.

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Affordable housing operators and landlords could apply for assistance, too. But to receive it, they would have to agree to freeze rents for five years, adhere to “good cause” eviction and not retaliate against tenants.

The bill text reads: “It is in the public interest to maintain safe, affordable housing by securing and providing emergency funding to ensure that individuals and families are not rendered homeless and that public housing entities, not-for-profit residential cooperatives and landlords unable to afford necessary expenses will not be encumbered with severe financial burden.”

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To provide relief, the bill calls for the creation of a relief fund for landlords and another for public housing to make up for rent shortfalls. They would be administered by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal.

Announcing the legislation, Niou was joined by her Assembly colleagues Harvey Epstein, Brian Barnwell and Linda Rosenthal, along with state Sens. Michael Gianaris, Robert Jackson and Gustavo Rivera.

The legislators acknowledged that such a bill would likely be opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has preferred more moderate approaches to addressing the problem of rent.

Barnwell, who represents Maspeth and Woodside in Queens, called Cuomo a “viper,” and said he is “playing politics” in order to avoid “going on the record.”

“He’s waiting until the last minute,” said Barnwell. “But he’s already on the record — he has immense power under the state constitution to take care of people, and he could even cancel rent today while we’re on this call.”

It is virtually inconceivable that the measure could become law without the support of Cuomo, whose approval ratings have surged during the pandemic. In 2018 the Senate — then controlled by Republicans — did unanimously override his veto of a full-day kindergarten bill, but the Assembly did not follow suit.

Two-thirds of each chamber’s votes are needed to override a veto. Senate Democrats are two seats shy of a so-called supermajority, meaning 42 of the 63 seats, but half of the 22 Republican senators are not seeking re-election this year, making that a possibility in the future. Democrats have a veto-proof majority in the Assembly, but would be highly unlikely to use it to override a Cuomo veto.