New York extends some relief for renters amid COVID-19

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Evictions are still on hold in New York courts as housing advocates worry about the fate of an estimated 14,000 renters who faced eviction before the state's COVID-19 emergency.

Courts spokeswoman Lucian Chalfen said Friday that the state's stay of evictions is still in effect through a March 16 order signed by the state's chief administrative judge.

The announcement comes as housing advocates including The Legal Aid Society hope New York courts will heed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s call for “no evictions” amid the pandemic.

This week, Cuomo said a new state law makes clear that no evictions are allowed while New York is in a pandemic.

“I signed the law, and the law is clear,” Cuomo said in a Thursday conference call with reporters. “Until when? Until I say COVID is over. And you know, we’ll figure out when that is.”

Cuomo signed an executive order Wednesday to extend the state’s protections for tenants who have faced financial hardships related to COVID-19 until Sept. 4. The state’s new Tenant Safe Harbor Act prevents a court from issuing an eviction warrant against those tenants.

Still, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society said the law alone doesn’t offer enough certainty to tenants who faced eviction before the pandemic emergency and can't afford rent.

New York City courts had 200,000 pending housing court cases and eviction warrants for 14,000 families when the state shut down in March, according to Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

And protesters worried about landlords suing tenants for rent called for government to “cancel rent” outside Brooklyn’s housing court Thursday, and questioned how reopening housing courts will handle evictions. New York City has halted court marshals from carrying out evictions under existing court guidance.

Cuomo spokeswoman Caitlin Girouard has said Cuomo's order gives courts and litigants “leeway” to suspend deadlines over civil lawsuits.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called for more federal aid Thursday for rental assistance and urged the state to protect households facing pre-pandemic evictions. He asked the state to allow payment plans for tenants.

Over 3.3 million New Yorkers have filed for unemployment since March 14, according to the state’s latest data. That includes 1.6 million in New York City alone and over 440,000 in Long Island.

New York originally halted evictions statewide against all tenants in mid-March.

That changed in May, when New York limited the moratorium to individuals who qualified for unemployment or who couldn’t pay rent because of COVID-19.

New York launched a $100 million, federally funded program in mid-July to offer some rent relief to applicants who applied by August 6.