State Lawmakers Extend Eviction Moratoriums to Mid-January

By Christian Nolan

State Lawmakers Extend Eviction Moratoriums to Mid-January

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Good evening Members,

During a special session called by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul this afternoon, state lawmakers approved legislation that extends the residential and commercial eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to Jan. 15, 2022.

As part of the legislation, lawmakers provided a new $25 million appropriation to fund legal services for tenants facing evictions.

“Proceeding with mass evictions during this pandemic is in no one’s best interest,” said NYSBA President T. Andrew Brown, noting that it weighed particularly heavily on small business owners and lower-income residents – especially essential workers and members of communities of color who were disproportionately impacted by the virus. “With the added burden of federal pandemic unemployment insurance expiring this week, allowing the state moratorium to lapse could well have left thousands of individuals and families without a safe and secure home.

“But our work is not done. An eviction moratorium is not a permanent solution to New York’s mounting housing affordability crisis,” Brown added. “NYSBA members have been working throughout the pandemic to provide pro bono counsel to assist renters and landlords in their good faith efforts to negotiate solutions that prevent evictions and enable some measure of financial stability for both parties. We stand ready to continue our efforts and to work with elected officials in their ongoing efforts to address this long-standing problem.”

In order to extend the moratoriums, lawmakers had to makes changes to it so that it could survive legal scrutiny due to an Aug. 12 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down core provisions in New York State law that barred eviction proceedings from taking place before Sept. 1 if the tenant submitted a pandemic-related economic hardship declaration.

The Court held that the provisions allowing tenants to fend off evictions without a hearing violated the Court’s longstanding ruling that “no man can be a judge in his own case.” Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Supreme Court also held that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its statutory authority and vacated the CDC’s recent eviction moratorium in certain counties with high-transmission rates of the COVID-19 delta variant.

These Supreme Court rulings would have cleared the way for thousands of eviction proceedings to move forward while New York was still struggling to get earmarked emergency rent relief funds out the door.

Previously, the state approved $2.4 billion in funds in order to help as many as 200,000 households late on their rent. But as of last week, only $200 million of that had been released, according to reports. Hochul, since becoming governor, has promised to get assistance out to renters quicker.

The New York State Bar Association’s Governmental Relations team has been busy tracking today’s legislation, which also provides the following:

  • Modifies the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program’s eviction protections to provide landlords with a basis to start an eviction proceeding against a covered tenant if a tenant is a nuisance or has inflicted substantial damage to a property.
  • Creates a due process mechanism for landlords to challenge the hardship declaration submitted by residential and commercial tenants – and for banks and mortgage holders to challenge the declaration submitted by property owners to avoid foreclosure – and directs judges to require residential tenants to apply for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program if their hardship claim is valid.
  • Increases the appropriation for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program from $2.35 billion to $2.6 billion and amends the appropriation to allow these funds to be allocated to residents of localities that opted out of the statewide program.
  • Increases the hardship fund from $100 million to $250 million and provides for the fund to be used for tenants whose incomes are between 80% and 120% of the area median income, landlords whose tenants vacated their property with rent unpaid, and landlords whose tenants are unresponsive or uncooperative.
  • Extends the period covered by the Tenant Safe Harbor Act to Jan. 15, 2022 and authorizes the Office of Court Administration to access limited COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program application information in order to allow the court to determine whether to stay an eviction proceeding.
  • Allows residents of localities that opted out of the statewide program to apply for financial assistance through the state program if their locality has exhausted all its funds. Also expands the eviction protections in the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program to residents of localities that have applied for assistance through a program administered by a locality that opted out of the statewide program.

Legislation was also enacted today that authorizes any state or local public body to hold virtual public meetings until Jan.15, 2022. Since the abrupt expiration of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s disaster emergency, state and local bodies were grappling with how to comply with the law and hold in-person meetings safely.

Cannabis Management Appointments

In addition to the eviction moratoriums, the Senate confirmed Hochul’s selections to jumpstart the Office of Cannabis Management. Assemblymember Tremaine Wright will assume the role as chair of the Cannabis Control Board and Christopher Alexander will serve as executive director.

“Gov. Kathy Hochul has demonstrated that it is indeed a new day in Albany by keeping her word and moving ahead with key appointments to a new cannabis regulatory body that will enable the state to finally move forward and establish an adult-use program,” said Brown. “The governor’s selections represent a breadth of knowledge, experience and diversity that is necessary to ensure New York will be a progressive leader in the cannabis space.

“The New York State Bar Association has long supported a well-regulated and equitable adult-use program and looks forward to working with the Hochul administration to build on today’s momentum to ensure that these goals are realized,” Brown continued. “The Marijuana Regulation & Taxation Act was signed into law five months ago, and it is critical that there be no more delays in its implementation – including much-needed improvements to the existing medical cannabis program, which will improve both affordability and accessibility to thousands of patients across the state.”

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