In George Santos eviction drama, a glimpse of how tenants exploit rent relief

Santos’ sister hasn’t paid rent in nearly three years. The state paid out her landlord for 15 months

George Santos and 90-02 Queens Boulevard (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty, Google Maps)
George Santos and 90-02 Queens Boulevard (Photo Illustration by Steven Dilakian for The Real Deal with Getty, Google Maps)

Amid a reckoning over his largely fabricated resume, New York Representative-elect George Santos has managed to stir up a fresh scandal with the seemingly innocuous act of moving into his sister’s apartment.

Santos, who once claimed to own 13 rental properties in New York, decried the state’s eviction moratorium in 2021, saying it robbed him and his family of revenue. A New York Times investigation last month found no proof of the Republican’s real estate holdings, but rather that he had faced eviction multiple times.

The revelation, first reported Thursday by the Daily Beast, that Santos’ sister Tiffany is facing an eviction lawsuit on her Queens apartment not only serves up a second helping of irony, it underscores that the state’s rent relief program — still active nearly three years into the pandemic — continues to open loopholes that allow tenants to exploit the system at landlords’ expense.

Tiffany Santos, for one, has used state tenant protections to rack up at least 33 months of unpaid rent. New York’s emergency rental assistance program has covered less than half of that, leaving her landlord with limited options to pursue the remainder.

Court records show Santos’ landlord, the limited liability company 90-02 QB Holdings, filed an eviction suit against her in August 2020 over $12,500 in arrears, or about six months’ worth of rent.

But Santos, along with the rest of New York state, was protected by an eviction moratorium that extended through January 2022.

In the interim, she could have filed for emergency rent relief. The program’s portal opened in June 2021 and offered to repay up to 15 months’ rent. At that point, Santos’ landlord had already gone 16 months without a payment, pushing her arrears to $33,000.

But Santos didn’t apply for the program until March 2022, court documents show. An application to the program automatically shields a tenant from eviction while the state determines whether they are eligible for relief.

That decision came in July 2022, when Santos’ landlord received a $30,750 payout. But by then, Santos had missed 28 months’ rent, leaving her landlord $29,050 short. Santos has continued to withhold rent in the months since, leaving her landlord holding the bag for more than $39,000 as of December.

Similar predicaments have been plaguing landlords across the city for more than a year.

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Last summer, Jerry Waxenberg, a third-generation landlord, said one of his Brooklyn tenants hadn’t paid rent since March 2020 and had racked up $35,000 in arrears as of July 2022.

Even if the tenant’s application was approved then and there, Waxenberg said he would still be short $15,600.

Landlords say the only means of recouping those arrears, in most cases, is to file yet another suit in housing court. For owners who have waited years to have their cases heard, starting over at the back of the line would stretch both patience and finances.

“The judge says, ‘Okay, you’ve got ERAP but they still owe you six months; so we’re closing this case and boom, you have to open another one,” said June Margolin, a Long Island landlord who has called for the program to be closed.

Santos’ landlord has attempted to avoid that detour, asking the court last month to amend its petition for relief to include the arrears it did not cover.

“There is no basis to find that the amount due should be read to be limited to the amount sought in the petition,” the December motion reads, citing legal precedent.

Meanwhile, the ERAP portal is set to close to new applicants on Jan. 15. The closure will likely leave tens of thousands of tenants and their landlords in a sort of limbo.

The program’s money has run dry and there’s little hope that more funding will replenish the pot. But for the time being, tenants remain protected from eviction while their landlords foot the bill.

Santos’ counsel declined to comment. Her landlord did not immediately return a request for comment.

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