Landlords in class-action lawsuit on New York eviction moratorium

New York News

(WETM) — Landlords and building owners say enough is enough when it comes to the eviction moratorium and the New York Rental Assistance Program. A class-action lawsuit brought by several state landlords challenges the Cuomo Administration’s moratorium, which did not allow property owners to question hardship claims made by their tenants.

The Supreme Court heard a similar case just a few weeks ago and sided with the landlords, saying it was unconstitutional. “Tenants were able to check a box basically saying I can’t pay rent. There was nothing we could do as far as evictions were concerned,” said Michelle McClelland, property manager with BGM Apartments in Southport.

Now, the Hochul-era moratorium extended these benefits but gives more rights to landlords. They can challenge hardship claims, and if they’re deemed false, property owners can evict. Since the Supreme Court decision came down before the landlords could go to court, Tuesday’s decision was a simple one: revise the petition and refile.

The Hochul Administration promised several benefits to both landlords and tenants in the new eviction moratorium bill, which extends rent assistance through January 15 of next year. Landlords remain skeptical, though, as federal rent relief dollars are still waiting to be distributed. The burden of proof now lies with property managers, who must have evidence showing that their tenants are falsely claiming benefits.

“How do I prove this person is working? How do I prove that that person has an illness that prevents them from being safe to look for other housing?” McClelland added.

According to a Treasury Department report with data through June 30, New York ranked last in its distribution of federal rental assistance money from December 2020. Less than 1% had been allocated to landlords. According to the Census Bureau, statewide, over 700,000 households are behind on rent, and each of those owes a rough average of $3,300. That’s a total estimated rent debt of nearly $2.3 billion in New York.

Even with aid from the government, McClelland says back rent is not always paid in full. She says she’s willing to work with tenants to find a payment plan that works for them, and her property management company claims to have made agreements with occupants who struggled during the pandemic.

While the state government says rent relief is on the way for those who qualified and applied, but landlords and tenants remain stuck in the middle. “It is frustrating because I feel as though the responsibility has been put on us, versus New York State,” McClelland concluded.

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