Landlords Can’t Interrupt Suspension on NY Tenant Evictions

Guadalupe Lucero, a member of the janitorial staff, wipes down high-touch surfaces at a building in Co-op City in the Bronx on May 13. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

MANHATTAN (CN) — New York landlords whose tenants couldn’t make rent during the coronavirus pandemic failed Friday to jumpstart evictions that Governor Andrew Cuomo put on hold for 60 days.

Though the case is not yet over — Chief U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon set oral arguments for June 24 after declining this morning to issue a temporary restraining order — Cuomo’s executive order has been extended until Aug. 20.

Friday’s hearing was conducted as a teleconference, and McMahon noted that she expects the federal court will still be closed because of the coronavirus pandemic by the time of the next hearing. New York City, which has been the national hotspot of the global pandemic, is set to begin only the first phase of Cuomo’s reopening plan Monday.

Cuomo issued his executive order pausing evictions on May 7. In addition to instituting a 60-day hold on new eviction proceedings, the order allows tenants to demand that landlords use their security deposits to pay rent that is due or in arrears.

Three Westchester-based landlords — Elmsford Apartment Associates LLC, 36 Apartment Associates LLC and 66 Apartment Associates J.V. — brought a federal complaint alleging that Cuomo’s order violates the takings and due-process clauses of the 14th Amendment.

“The order thus improperly places upon landlords the sole obligation to provide housing for tenants who are unable to pay for same—an obligation that should by right be borne by society as a whole,” their attorney Mark Guterman, from the firm Lehrman, Lehrman & Guterman, wrote in a 22-page memo. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James has not yet responded to those arguments, and her assistant Matthew Conrad said little at today’s conference, dedicated mostly to preliminary matters like scheduling.

Judge McMahon, who heads the Southern District of New York, said she anticipated no need for evidence-gathering, as the case concerned a purely legal dispute.

Unlike New York’s federal judiciary, state courts reopened late last month on Memorial Day to a rush of lawsuits. 

“Does this make any impact on any arguments that you have made?” McMahon asked, referring to the court openings.

Guterman noted that decision that did not impact the suspension of evictions.

Despite unexpectedly adding 2.5 million jobs last month, U.S. unemployment still remains enormous from virus-related layoffs. That rate shot up to 14.5% in April, the highest ever recorded in the state’s 44-year history.

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