State Senate pushing blanket eviction moratorium: sources

Real estate may be unable to stop legislation

Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Getty)
Andrea Stewart-Cousins (Getty)

UPDATED, Dec. 15 2020, 4:38 p.m.: The New York state legislature is a house divided when it comes to extending protections against eviction.

The state Senate is pushing a blanket moratorium on all residential evictions for an indefinite period, according to sources, but the state Assembly opposes the measure.

The move to block all residential evictions would be a departure from the legislature’s approach in recent months. Lawmakers have ceded control to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has preferred to extend existing legislation.

The law governing residential evictions, the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, allows property owners to seek money judgments, rather than evictions, for non-payment cases. The protections the law grants expire in two weeks. But the spike in coronavirus cases across the state has pushed the Senate, which secured a Democratic supermajority in November’s election, to consider taking things much further.

“It’s important we put a blanket moratorium in place that prevents all residential evictions,” said state Sen. Brian Kavanagh. “At a time when we’re curtailing so many activities, we certainly shouldn’t be letting eviction marshals come to people’s homes and forcibly remove them.”

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According to sources involved in the negotiations, the senate is prepared to pass a universal eviction moratorium, the details of which are starting to come into focus. Two concrete options are bills which were proposed last summer, but have since stalled. One, sponsored by state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, would stop all evictions for one year after the end of the state’s declared emergency. Another would stop them for a shorter period.

“A real eviction moratorium is necessary, especially as we approach alarmingly increasing numbers of Covid cases across the state,” said Myrie. “With 300,000 deaths and counting due to Covid-19, it’s abundantly clear that evictions harm the tenant, harm the public and don’t bring a single penny to property owners who need the relief.”

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Sources say the Senate has the votes to pass a measure — although it may not yet be written — and intends to do so by Jan. 1. The state Assembly, however, would prefer to extend and codify existing legislation limiting evictions for non-payment, which Cuomo extended until Jan. 31.

Kerri Biché, a spokesperson for Assembly speaker Carl Heastie, said, “This is false. From our conversations, the Assembly and the Senate are in the same place on how to handle evictions.”

Yesterday, in statements to reporters, Heastie raised the possibility of doing an extraordinary session before January, to address “hot button issues,” including revenue and an eviction moratorium.

Separately, the Assembly is reportedly focused on a plan to raise revenue, despite Cuomo’s preference to wait for federal aid before imposing new taxes to fix the state’s yawning budget shortfall.

The senate’s push for a universal moratorium on evictions, rather than a targeted program, has rankled property owners. Such a blanket measure, they argue, could give tenants who might otherwise pay rent the ability to skip it without facing consequences.

“Any eviction is not good — we don’t want people homeless,” said Jay Martin, executive director of Community Housing Improvement Program, which represents property owners in New York City. Martin said that landlords prefer an approach which would prioritize protections for those who are “truly on the verge of homelessness.”

Observers say it is likely the state legislature will reach an agreement by this Friday, Dec. 18, because legislation must be printed for several days before coming up for a vote.

Waiting to pass a bill until after this week would give Cuomo the option to veto it automatically by letting the legislative session draw to a close before signing it.

UPDATE: This story was updated to add a comment from Assembly speaker Carl Heastie’s spokesperson.