Housing Court: New York evictions can resume Monday

Judge notes “important caveats” in new guidance

Starting Oct. 12, with “important caveats,” evictions may resume in New York. (iStock)
Starting Oct. 12, with “important caveats,” evictions may resume in New York. (iStock)

Evictions may resume in New York on Oct. 12, but with “important caveats,” the court system announced today.

In a memo released Oct. 9, Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said that residential evictions — including those for non-payment of rent and for breaking lease terms — can go forward, but the proceedings are expected to take longer than usual.

According to Marks’ guidance, default judgments will resume Nov. 3, which means that an eviction could proceed if a tenant failed to appear in court. The proceedings will take much longer than normal, the administrative order reads, because of measures to ensure safety in the normally crowded Housing Court.

The guidance memo also highlights a gray area — one of several which have arisen in the state’s policy response to evictions — stemming from a discrepancy in terminology between a Cuomo administration executive order and a new law, both of which limit evictions during the pandemic.

The legislation limits the “issuance” of eviction warrants, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order limits their “execution or enforcement.” Although Cuomo’s order applied to “any residential tenant,” the legislation only applied to evictions for non-payment. Resolving the difference will be up to judicial interpretation, the order reads.

The conflicting language “just goes to show that whereas one would hope that the authors of the [executive order] would look to create clarity, they have instead only sown more avoidable confusion,” said Nativ Winiarsky, an attorney at Kucker, Marino, Winiarsky and Bittens.

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“Clearly this administrative order shows that the Office of Court Administration is really trying, if not struggling, to square the need to resume operations at the Housing Court level while being diligent in trying to protect the health and safety concerns of all parties, and it’s not always an easy balance,” Winiarsky said.

The guidance comes one week after Cuomo broadened the scope of a law that limits some evictions for non-payment, allowing it to apply to evictions filed pre-Covid.

Using that legislation, dubbed the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, tenants can argue against an eviction for non-payment if the pandemic has caused them financial distress. A separate rule limiting evictions, announced last month by the Centers for Disease Control, would impose high penalties on landlords who file evictions for non-payment if a tenant provides a sworn affidavit affirming financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

Despite the overlapping restrictions on evictions, the new guidance will allow some evictions to proceed. As news of the resumption of eviction proceedings reached the real estate industry, initial reactions were tepid.

“It’s a slow step in the right direction,” said Sherwin Belkin, a partner at Belkin Burden Goldman, who added that it is not sustainable for property owners to continue paying taxes and building expenses without collecting rent or being able to evict tenants. “Continuing to place the economic burden on the real estate industry, while kicking the ‘rent-can’ down the road, is not a viable route to address this societal issue.”

Tenant advocates have said that the law limiting evictions has significant gaps. The Tenant Safe Harbor Act allows money judgments in lieu of evictions, which will lead to mounting debts for renters, legal service providers have said.