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NY lawmakers extend state eviction freeze through January

New York’s extension of Covid-related anti-eviction protections added a due process mechanism allowing landlords, banks, and mortgage holders to rebut tenants’ financial hardship declarations in court.

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — New York lawmakers convened a rare legislative session on Wednesday afternoon to pass an extension of the state’s eviction moratorium through mid-January 2022, to provide relief for tenants after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down renters’ protections last week.

The conservative-majority Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a section of New York state law that prevented evictions from taking place during the pandemic, ruling 6-3 to strike down a provision of the moratorium that allowed tenants to pause eviction proceedings simply by filing a form declaring they’d had a pandemic-related hardship.

With New York’s eviction moratorium set to expire at the end of August at midnight Tuesday evening, Governor Kathy Hochul called a special “extraordinary” session in Albany to address what she called an  “impending eviction crisis” following the Supreme Court ruling.

Just after 9:30 pm on Wednesday, the Democratic-dominated Assembly voted 80 to 60 to pass an emergency extension of the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures until Jan. 15, 2022.

The extension is intended to give state officials more time to distribute rental assistance relief funds to renters and homeowners quickly as the Covid-19 delta variant spreads across the country.

To address the high court’s decision, the bill added a due process mechanism for landlords to challenge financial hardship declarations submitted by residential and commercial tenants in court, as well as allowing banks and mortgage holders to challenge declarations submitted by property owners to avoid foreclosure.

The bill also called to increase the hardship fund from $100 million to $250 million and provide for the fund to be used for tenants whose incomes are between 80% to 120% area median income; landlords whose tenants vacated their property with rent unpaid; and landlords whose tenants are unresponsive or uncooperative.

The legislation will be delivered to Hochul, who pledged to sign the expanded relief bill.

The state Senate and Assembly are both currently in recess and were not scheduled to reconvene at the state Capitol in Albany until early 2022.

The bill before the Assembly was introduced by Steven Cymbrowitz, a Democratic assemblyman representing Assembly District 45, which consists of the Brooklyn neighborhoods Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Midwood.

A parallel bill in the state Senate, sponsored by Senate Housing Chair Brian Kavanagh, passed earlier in the day along party lines with a Democratic supermajority, 38-19, to approve the bill.

Drafts of the bills were not made available for review by the legislature until Wednesday afternoon.

A group of Republican Assembly members and state senators decried the emergency extension of the moratorium as rushed and an attack on property rights.

“For months, they have ignored our calls, as well as everyone else who isn’t a radical ‘cancel rent’ activist,” Republican state Senator Rob Ortt wrote in a statement Wednesday. “Their unlawful eviction moratorium, being continued today, defies all common-sense if the true goal is to protect renters, small business owners, and stabilize the housing market. Their failure to deliver these critical funds — combined with the devastating policies they craft behind closed doors — is an implicit acknowledgment of their own incompetence.”

Other Republican lawmakers repeatedly challenged the extension as “kicking the can down the road” into 2022, an election year.

Congress imposed the original moratorium in September of last year during the Trump administration to prevent landlords from kicking out tenants who can’t pay rent because of temporary financial hardship stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In June 2021, the Supreme Court let the previous moratorium stand but warned that such a ban on evictions should be passed by Congress.

Democrats in the House attempted to pass legislation to extend the ban before Congress recessed in August, but could not garner enough support for the effort.

Earlier this year, the state set up a new $2.4 billion rent relief fund to provide up one year of past due rent and utility bills directly to landlords on behalf of eligible households who are at or below 80% of area median income, but had only distributed around just $200 million, roughly 7%, as of last week.

New Yorkers that spend 30% or more of their monthly income on rent can also benefit from up to three months of extra rental aid.

Applicants to the state’s rental relief program automatically receive protections from eviction while their application is pending.

Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie said last week that the legislature was working its partners to quickly distribute funds provided by New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program along with a separate rental assistance program the state established for those who fall outside of the emergency program.

Over the weekend, Brooklyn and Queens Congressman Hakeem Jeffries spearheaded a letter signed by Congressional Democrats calling on Hochul to “take the necessary actions” within her power to keep the state’s moratorium in place.

The letter was signed by Reps. Nydia Velazquez, Ritchie Torres, Carolyn Maloney, Mondaire Jones, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng, Adriano Espaillat, Yvette Clarke, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman, Kathleen Rice, and Jerry Nadler.

Last week after the Supreme Court struck down extending the national eviction moratorium, Jeffries tweeted, “The Supreme Court does not have a scintilla of credibility.”

Hochul was sworn in as the 57th governor of New York last week following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation last month in the wake of sexual harassment allegations and a controversy involving the state’s reporting of Covid deaths at nursing homes.

Citing the success in vaccination rates, and declining hospitalization and positivity statewide earlier this summer, Cuomo ended New York’s state of emergency on June 24, prior to a subsequent surge of the Covid-19 delta variant later that summer.

California, Oregon, Georgia, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington also have ongoing eviction moratoriums.

Lawmakers in the District of Columbia unanimously voted in July to gradually phase out tenant protections over the next several months.

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