New York Landlords Sue to Block Eviction Moratorium

The lawsuit follows a federal judge’s order Wednesday striking down a nationwide moratorium on evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.  

People line up at a Covid-19 vaccination site at Yankee Stadium, Feb. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

BROOKLYN (CN) — New York landlords sued the state court administration and county sheriffs on Thursday, seeking to block enforcement of a recently extended moratorium on evictions during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Five landlords, including a married couple, filed the complaint, along with the Rent Stabilization Association of NYC, a real estate industry trade group that says it represents 25,000 property owners. 

The Covid-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020, the property owners say, is unconstitutional because it compels speech. The act requires landlords to distribute “hardship declaration” forms, which allow tenants to take advantage of the stay on evictions if they are unable to pay rent due to Covid-19. 

Calling one part of the act too vague, the complaint also says the statute fails to warn property owners when tenants will be exempt from eviction, and doesn’t give landlords a way to challenge tenants’ hardship declarations. 

Some renters have refused to pay rent since before the pandemic began, the landlords say, or have refused to move out after their leases expired. 

“[The eviction stay] has trampled on their constitutional rights, denied owners any benefit from their property, and freed tenants from any consequence for refusing to pay their rent, giving them carte blanche to overstay the expiration of their leases — even if their nonpayment or lease expiration began before the pandemic,” the landlords wrote in the 49-page complaint filed in the Eastern District of New York. 

New York state lawmakers passed legislation on Tuesday that extends the eviction pause through Aug. 31, as the state works to allocate $2.4 billion it has budgeted to help renters struggling during the pandemic. 

The extension strings along the temporary measure into a year-and-a-half long period, during which the property owner plaintiffs “have been pushed to the brink of disaster,” according to the complaint. 

Attorney Randy Mastro, of the firm Gibson Dunn, represents the landlords. 

“Our clients, as small property owners, have suffered like so many others during this pandemic,” Mastro wrote in an email to Courthouse News, “and now, they are being crushed by the unconstitutional burdens that the State has imposed on them in extending this eviction moratorium that, for more than a year now, has insulated their tenants from any consequence for failing to pay their rent obligations.” 

“We are therefore compelled to seek court intervention to block the State’s unconstitutional mandate,” Mastro said. 

In response to a request for comment on the filing, a representative said the state court administration had not yet been served. Besides New York’s chief administrative judge, the complaint names the sheriffs of Dutchess and Nassau counties; the sheriff of New York City; commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation; and director of the Bureau of Marshals.

The complaint comes two weeks after the same landlords’ lawsuit against Attorney General Letitia James was dismissed, after the court found James was not a proper party to the action. 

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Washington struck down a nationwide eviction moratorium, ruling that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention overstepped its authority. 

The CDC noted that an eviction stay could keep 40 million Americans housed, and as New York lawmakers also argued, potentially reduce the spread of Covid-19. 

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