By Maria Rocha-Buschel
City officials have indefinitely suspended eviction proceedings in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a memo from the state’s chief administrative judge on Sunday.
The memo from the Unified Court System last weekend said that effective at 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, the courts would be postponing all non-essential functions until further notice, including pending trials, due to the ongoing public health emergency in New York State.
Prior to the city’s decision to halt evictions, a group of 29 New York rental building owners and managers, including Blackstone, instituted a voluntary 90-day moratorium on evictions, which was announced shortly after the court system had issued a one-week moratorium.
Various housing groups, including Right to Counsel NYC Coalition and Housing Justice for All, pushed a joint city and state strategy, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo to implement an eviction moratorium and to close the courts. More than 15,000 tenants across the state also signed a petition to the governor calling for an eviction moratorium and immediate rent freeze.
“Housing courts closing isn’t just about the public health crisis,” said Susanna Blankley, Coalition Coordinator for the Right to Counsel NYC Coalition. “Housing courts across the country are still open. And in most places where there have been moratoriums, they aren’t indefinite and they often aren’t accompanied by a court closure, meaning tenants still have to go to court. What we won, we’ve never won before, and we won it because thousands of tenants organized.”
“It’s a relief to families knowing they don’t have to worry about both eviction and COVID-19,” said Randy Dillard, tenant leader with Community Action for Safe Apartments. “This moratorium means tenants can focus on and take care of their families and communities and that finally the government is prioritizing people’s health over landlord profits.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, along with 106 other members of Congress, also called for an immediate nationwide moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions from properties owned, insured, or overseen by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in light of the developing coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a national emergency, and many occupants of federally-assisted housing will not be able to afford rent or mortgage payments through no fault of their own, as a direct result of emergency limitations put in place to safeguard public health,” the members wrote in their request. “During this time of uncertainty, it is imperative that your agencies impose a temporary moratorium on foreclosures and evictions to protect the countless Americans who have been, or soon will be, impacted by this evolving public health crisis.”
UPDATE: State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh have also introduced a bill to enshrine the eviction moratorium in the state legislature. The bill would provide protections against evictions and foreclosures during a state disaster emergency, prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants during an emergency without a court order and gives the court the ability to stay eviction proceedings or adjust lease obligations if a tenant’s ability to pay rent is materially affected by the emergency.