COLONIE, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Landlords and tenants have been butting heads since the start of the pandemic and programs popped up to limit evictions. Debbie Riffe says she and her son, Kevin Riffe, have never been evicted in their lives, which made Tuesday an absolute nightmare.

“I feel like I’m going to have a nervous breakdown. I never thought I’d be out on the street ever,” says Debbie.

“I wanted to cry. Like when the police came, that was so embarrassing,” Kevin says. “It’s demoralizing, you know what I mean? We were kicked out in the middle of a blizzard.”

They say they had been living in a one-bedroom apartment at the Best Value Inn on Central Avenue for more than five years when they lost their jobs due to COVID around May 2022. The mother and son applied and were approved for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program by December, earning up to 12 months in back rent and three future months. However, Debbie says when she notified the owner, he refused to accept the payment. 

“I should’ve looked, but I trusted him. I thought that he was doing the right thing and he’s like I’ll take care of it and two weeks later we were served,” she explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton.

NEWS10 visited the Best Value Inn offices Thursday where the owner, only identified as “Jeff”, says he believes he followed the law and court directions to the letter. Debbie and Kevin claim they missed a January 12 court date while Debbie was in the hospital. When Debbie returned to court on February 23, she claims Jeff’s argument in court was he should not be compelled to accept ERAP and that he didn’t know how.

“His attorney was yelling at me, saying my client doesn’t want anything to do with the ERAP. He doesn’t want that, he wants somebody in there that will pay,” she says.

Anthony Mohen, Senior Attorney at the Legal Aid Society, says they’re excuses he’s heard before.

“New York State has source of income discrimination. Meaning that landlords are not allowed to turn away any valid source of income whether it’s from Department of Social Services, a Section 8 voucher, or the ERAP program,” Mohen explains. “ERAP doesn’t cover late fees for non-payment; however, by accepting the ERAP money, the landlord agrees to waive any late fees that were associated with that rent.”

“Also saying I’m not technologically sophisticated or I don’t know how to go through the process is not a good enough reason. There are resources to help landlords through that process,” he goes on to say.

Mohen says ERAP was a new initiative to fill the pandemic gap and many landlords and tenants struggled through the change. However, he says depending on your circumstances, the law does protect applicants from eviction.

“Sometimes they will still get eviction notices, but when they go to court, if they inform the court that they have applied for ERAP and they are provisionally approved, they should be entitled to those protections,” he says.

Debbie and Kevin shared their documents with NEWS10 that show they have 180 days of protection from eviction from the date of their provisional approval dated December 9. They also shared their first court notice addressing their eviction which they say was not served to them until December 27.

Sheriff Craig Apple confirms to NEWS10 deputies executed an eviction warrant at the Best Value Inn on February 28. The Riffes say they were told by deputies at that time that they have 30 days to collect the rest of their belongings.

The ERAP program did stop accepting new applications on January 20, but Mohen says there are other options now than pandemic funds have dried up.

Debbie says Legal Aid has taken her case and has filed a complaint on her behalf to the NYS Attorney General.

“There have been other financial assistance programs that organizations like ours, Legal Aid Society, as well as others, such as United Tenants of Albany, have been able to help tenants who are behind on their rent,” he says.