Renters, small landlords protected until January under new law

Photo by Mike Groll, Office of the Governor
September 2, 2021 – Albany, NY Governor Kathy Hochul signs legislation extending the Emergency Rental Assistance Program at the Executive Mansion in Albany.

Gov. Kathy Hochul called for a special legislative session beginning on Sept. 1, to address the state’s extension of the eviction moratorium due to financial conflicts brought on by the pandemic.

Hochul made one thing very clear about the purpose of the special legislative session called on Sept 1. — kicking families out of their homes during such unstable times is not how New York is built to respond to our crushing pandemic-based reality.

The eviction moratorium allows for renters to remain in their homes, banning evictions due to the worsening financial effects of the COVID pandemic, and gives them options to apply for aid.

Under the new law, all protections of the Tenant Safe Harbor Act for residential tenants who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the pandemic will remain in place, along with new protections on commercial evictions.

“I ended up being let go from my job. I only work part time because I’m still a student. So I really need the little money I make to feed myself, maintain my car, and pay small utilities bills. I had to scramble and find ways to make money quickly,” said Teddy Giardina, SUNY New Paltz student living in a local apartment complex that recently raised the rent. “It was a stressful time worrying about when is the next time I’d be making a stable income again.”

When the U.S. national moratorium on evictions came to an end on Aug. 31, due to a 6-3 vote by the Supreme Court, there were rising concerns about evicting people from their homes, further contributing to the rise in COVID cases and amplifying stress at a pressing time when different coronavirus variants are spreading rapidly.

The goal of banning evictions and implementing government assistance programs is to keep people in their homes, and help them pay their rent.

“We are not going to allow people who — through no fault of their own — lost income, not able to pay and facing eviction… We are not going to abandon our neighbors in need,” Hohcul said during a speech at the state Capitol.

Hochul called the Supreme Court’s decision “heartless,” in its rejection of the Biden administration’s moratorium. Hochul says that “we are not going to exacerbate what is already a crisis in terms of the homelessness problem.”

With COVID came the loss of jobs, and with cases rising due to the Delta variant, many people are getting sick and are unable to work. As minority communities and low-income populations are disproportionately affected by COVID, these are the groups that need the most attention in regards to rental assistance and government support.

Hochul signed into law the new eviction moratorium Sept. 2, expanding rental assistance programs and the protections of New York State’s Tenant Safe Harbor Act from Aug. 31- Jan. 15, to renters affected by COVID.

According to the New York State Senate website, The Tenant Safe Harbor Act was enacted on June 30, 2020 and serves to give tenants certain protections against eviction when it comes to unpaid rent.

Although there are helpful options for tenants facing financial hardships, there are steps they need to take to ensure these protections.

According to a press release from the Governor’s Office, under the new, extended moratorium, tenants must submit a hardship declaration, or a document explaining the source of the hardship, to prevent an eviction proceeding from moving forward.” Tenants are required to prove that the pandemic affected them in a way that makes them unable to pay their rent.

With the rise in COVID cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant, Hochul said we are not yet out of the trenches, and people are still struggling to make an adequate living; these problems don’t simply disappear.

“The fact is that we are not out of the pandemic yet… we could not have foreseen there to be another variant, a deadly variant, known as the Delta variant,” Hochul said.

Hochul said state government failed in its responsibility to get the money that was allocated by Congress out to the people in need this summer, explaining that this is why she wants to expand the safety net for those who qualify for rental and small landlord assistance.

Tenants who are facing financial hardships are encouraged to apply for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) which, according to the New York State website, works to “provide significant economic relief to help low and moderate-income households at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability by providing rental arrears, temporary rental assistance and utility arrears assistance.”

Applicants are protected from eviction while their application is being processed and will be protected for a year if they qualify for the program.

To help support landlords, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office, the legislation places a moratorium on residential foreclosure proceedings so that homeowners and small landlords who own 10 or fewer residential dwellings can file hardship declarations with their mortgage lender, other foreclosing party, or a court that would prevent a foreclosure.