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COVID-19: New York Bans  Evictions As Tenants Struggle To Pay Rent

The New York Legislature has overwhelmingly passed one of the most comprehensive anti-eviction laws in the nation, as the state contends with high levels of unemployment caused by a pandemic that has taken more than 330,000 lives nationwide.

New York Times reports that tenants and advocacy groups have been dreading the end-of-year expiration of eviction bans that have kept people in their homes even as they fell months behind in their rent. Under the new measure, landlords will be barred from evicting most tenants for at least another 60 days in almost all cases.

The bill would not only block landlords from evicting most tenants but would also protect some small landlords from foreclosure and automatically renew tax exemptions for homeowners who are elderly or disabled.

The Legislature convened an unusual special session between Christmas and New Year to pass the measure, acting quickly because the governor’s executive order barring many evictions was slated to expire on Dec. 31. The legislators’ urgency reflected a national concern over the fate of millions of people without jobs and access to job opportunities, as the pandemic continues to eat away at the economy.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has signed the bill, which goes into effect immediately.

The passage of the bill comes as a relief for renters like Vincia Barber, a 40-year old tenant in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, who said she lost her job as a nanny and hasn’t paid rent in months.

“This is the best thing they could do for us today,” said Ms. Barber, who added that two of her relatives had died of the coronavirus.

Once the bill becomes law in New York, tenants like Ms. Barber can protect their homes by submitting a document stating financial hardship related to the coronavirus. As many as 1.2 million New York households are currently at risk of being removed from their homes, according to a database maintained by Stout, a consulting firm.

For eviction cases that are already working their way through the courts, the law will halt proceedings for at least 60 days. Landlords would not be allowed to begin new eviction proceedings until at least May 1.

Some landlords resisted the measure, arguing that the law didn’t adequately distinguish between tenants with resources and those without. They said the new law paid too little heed to property owners who are themselves grappling with diminished financial resources, as tenants fall behind on rent and ground-floor retail tenants go out of business.

The legislation attempts to address those concerns by making it harder for banks to foreclose on smaller landlords who are themselves struggling to pay bills.

The state’s emergency action comes after President Trump signed on Sunday a $900 billion relief package, which included $1.3 billion in rental relief for New Yorkers and extended a federal eviction moratorium — and two days after unemployment benefits expired for millions of Americans. The state and federal legislation speak to the precarious financial situation facing millions of Americans, nine months into the pandemic.

Nationally, an estimated 7 million to 14 million households are at risk for eviction, according to Stout’s database. They are thought to be short between $11 billon and $20 billion in rent.

Other states have taken steps to delay evictions as well. Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut has extended that state’s ban until Feb. 9. Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington extended an eviction moratorium until March 31.

New York and the other states acted to plug holes in a federal moratorium that housing advocates say does not do enough to protect tenants from losing their homes. The requirements to qualify for eviction protection are considered onerous, and several states took their own action.

The New York Senate approved the new measure 40 to 21 on Monday, while the State Assembly voted 99 to 47.

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