New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed the Tenant Safe Harbor Act on June 30 extending eviction protections throughout the state. The Tenant Safe Harbor Act bans courts from evicting otherwise eligible tenants who can’t pay rent due to economic hardships caused by COVID-19. Although landlords can still seek money judgments from renters, unpaid rent accrued from March 7 onward can not be used as the basis for evicting a tenant who faces pandemic-related financial struggles. Due to ongoing uncertainty of how the coronavirus will continue to impact the economy and livelihood of many, there is no definitive date as to when these protections will be lifted.
The main goal of this bill is to prevent evictions during the pandemic, a time where staying home has never been more important. Additionally, the bill will prevent an overflow of people into the shelter system and support those that need time to get back on their feet. Other protective measures included are banning late fees and allowing tenants to use their security deposit as rent payment.
The bill doesn’t explicitly identify what constitutes a COVID-related economic hardship. However, it does require eviction courts to thoroughly examine the tenant’s income history, assets, and any form of government assistance they may be receiving to determine protection eligibility.
When lockdowns began in March and New York quickly became a hub for the virus, Governor Cuomo ordered a statewide moratorium on evictions. This temporarily protected tenants from nonpayment evictions, but the order was soon to expire. This bill extends these actions, at least until restrictions on businesses and non-essential gatherings are lifted throughout the country.
Senator Brad Hoylman, a sponsor of the bill, released the following statement: “Now that the Tenant Safe Harbor Act has been signed into law, those New Yorkers most affected financially during this pandemic will have immediate protection from eviction. No single law can single-handedly solve the eviction crisis—but the Tenant Safe Harbor Act is one crucial step to address the looming tidal wave of evictions.”
New York has been hit particularly hard by the current recession. In the 3 month span from when lockdown began until early June, around 2.5 million New Yorkers filed for unemployment, and 1,156,800 renter households have had at least one member lose their job because of COVID-19. These staggering numbers have warranted this dramatic response from the Governor.
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This temporary ban on evictions does not mean tenants can live rent-free; it simply buys them time to sort through potential alternatives for incurred rent. The bill doesn’t waive rent or provide compensation, so tenants may be faced with ever-increasing amounts of debt as the hard-hit economy persists and we see the highest levels of unemployment in decades. Once these protections expire, those who were unable to find a job or make enough money to cover months of unpaid rent will find themselves in a difficult situation with few alternatives. Is this bill just delaying the inevitable, or will tenants truly have options to meet their growing commitment by the time these protections are lifted? Time will tell, but for now, many New York landlords will continue to endure months of uncollected income.
Despite the uncertain repercussions of this bill, there is no doubt it will help keep thousands of New Yorkers off the streets for now. Those close to losing their homes and on the verge of homelessness can at least count on having a roof over their head during the challenging months ahead.