Scramble to stop evictions after Supreme Court cripples NY moratorium
Revising the policy could prove a challenge, attorneys say
Lawmakers, lawyers and landlords are mobilizing in the wake of the Supreme Court decision Thursday that tenants cannot decide on their own that they qualify for New York’s eviction moratorium.
The high court held that the self-attesting hardship declaration that tenants can submit denied landlords their due process.
“You can’t be the judge and jury,” said Luise Barrack, head of Rosenberg & Estis’ litigation department. “Someone else has a right to look at what you’re saying, and this hardship declaration did not allow that.”
The decision allows cases stayed by the hardship form to move forward, but real estate attorneys say housing court backlogs and a likely extension of the moratorium means most at-risk tenants won’t face eviction in the near-term — as long as lawmakers act quickly.
For one, the courts have yet to fully, physically open. And attorneys expect delays in cases to persist for at least six months. More than 65,000 cases have been filed since the moratorium went into effect in March 2020, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. Most have not been heard.
Plus, it’s likely that state lawmakers will act to extend and amend the moratorium so it complies with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
State Senator Brian Kavanagh said he planned to “draft and enact legislation to shore up the moratorium in a matter that is consistent with the constraints the court articulated.”
In a tweet Thursday night, incoming governor Kathy Hochul said she would quickly address the top court’s decision and work to strengthen the state’s moratorium.
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After Hochul takes office Aug. 24, she can call the state legislature back into session to vote on moratorium legislation. State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou introduced a bill last Friday that would push the eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to Oct. 31.
Sherwin Belkin, a partner at Belkin Burden Goldman who represents landlords, said tweaking the legislation could prove tricky. State law already protects tenants from eviction if their proof of hardship stands up in court. Including it in a new moratorium would be redundant.
“It would not seem to make sense for the legislature to do that, since the statute already exists,” Belkin said.
The longer it takes the legislature to work out the kinks, the more likely that tenants will face eviction, said Legal Aid Society attorney Ellen Davidson, who defends tenants.
On paper, the Supreme Court’s decision favors property owners, but landlords are far from satisfied with their situation. Groups representing city building owners have seized on the ruling as an opportunity to double down on demands that the state release rent aid.
“This is not a win for anybody,” Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program said, calling the moratorium a “stall tactic for the government, which has failed to provide rent relief to tenants.”
CHIP, alongside the Rent Stabilization Association, called on elected officials to distribute more than $2 billion in available rent relief. The program distributing the funds has been mired in delays, but once tenants receive funds, they are afforded eviction protection for up to a year as long as they stay current on rent.
As of this week, only $100 million has gone out.
RSA president Joseph Strasburg said in a statement that Hochul should immediately take charge of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the agency running the program, to address delays.
“The moratorium has never been a solution to this crisis,” Strasburg said. “The solution is getting the billions of dollars in rent relief — which was made available months ago by the federal government — out the door today.”
But Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains in charge of state government and has not delegated any authority to Hochul.