ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — New York’s eviction moratorium is extended until January 15 after the state legislature voted 38-19 to extend it. The state legislature held a special session Wednesday to vote the extension, which had officially expired in New York Tuesday at midnight.
Sen. Jeremy Cooney (D) made the drive to Albany Wednesday morning for the session. He said it’s important lawmakers met because there have been a lot of concerns from both property owners and tenants. “The key message here is the system is not working, and that we have an obligation as state lawmakers to go back to work to make sure that for the rest of the pandemic, folks are taking care of,” he said.
The moratorium has received mixed reactions from tenants and landlords. The City-Wide Tenant Union of Rochester says expanding it would impact thousands throughout the state. “Prior to the pandemic, we saw 8,000 evictions filed each year in Rochester and each of those eviction filings,” said Ritti Singh, the union’s communications coordinator. “That could represent one person, but it could also represent a family.” She adds: “That’s not just 8,000 people at risk of eviction. It could be 16,000 or more.”
However, property owners like Rich Tyson say the moratorium has had a negative impact. Tyson had to sell many of his properties. “I am down to 9 out of 37 that I owned at the beginning of last year,” Tyson said. “I started selling off and I’m thrilled that I did. Otherwise, I’d be in a really tough spot. I would be bankrupt at this point.”
Tyson also said he’s starting to receive notices of tax-lien sales from the city because he has to pay property taxes. “I can’t evict people that aren’t paying me rent on my properties, but the taxes that aren’t being paid are being sold off now by the city to investors that are going to charge me 18%,” he said. “If I don’t pay them, then there’s going to be a foreclosure proceeding. And especially on properties that have a mortgage on them—we are technically in default if we aren’t keeping current with our property taxes.”
With the eviction moratorium passed, some changes are expected. This includes allowing landlords to challenge hardship claims made by tenants in court. “These hardship declarations,” Tyson said. “There was no proof requirement. You could just fill it out, say, “I’ve been impacted financially.” And there was no way to double-check that.”
This change follows a ruling from the Supreme Court in August. The court struck down a part of the state’s moratorium that had allowed tenants to pause eviction proceedings by declaring they have faced financial hardships due to the pandemic.
“A tenant is the expert on their own experience,” Singh said. “When the tenant filled out a declaration of hardship, stating that they’ve suffered hardship during this pandemic—it’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court has decided that that’s not enough.”
“We hope that, moving forward…whatever new process for showing proof of hardship, we hope that it’s accessible to tenants,” Singh said. “It can be sometimes difficult for attendant to show hardship. So we hope that there aren’t too many barriers created.”
While there are mixed feelings about the eviction moratorium, many agree more could be done. This summer, New York approved a billion-dollar fund to help those behind on rent, but a lot of money has yet to go out.
“The state put away $2.7 billion in rent relief, about $200 million has gone out the door, that’s unacceptable. That is not good program management,” Cooney said.
“Those funds go directly to our property owners for back rent. So if you have not been able to pay your rent, let’s say you lost your job during the pandemic and you have not been able to make your monthly rate, landlords and tenants together, can apply for this pot of funding and then access those dollars so they can pay their mortgages.”
But Cooney also said accessing this money needs to be easier. “We have heard from a number of local property owners, not big property owners that own huge towers, but folks who own one, two or three units, they are confused. They are not able to access the money that the federal and state government put away for them, so we have to make that easier.”
“At the state level, if you apply for rental assistance, while your application is pending, you are actually protected from an eviction,” Singh said. “Also on the state level, if you apply and you are accepted, you are prevented from an eviction for a year, you get a rent freeze, and you also get ‘good cause’ for a year.”