On April 7, 2020, Senator Brad Hoylman, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and Senator Liz Kruege introduced a new bill entitled the “NYS Tenant Safe Harbor Act” (the Act) in the New York State legislature. While Governor Cuomo has already prohibited landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent through June 20, 2020 (90 days from Executive Order 202.8), this bill would extend that moratorium until six months after the end of the current state of emergency.
Senator Hoylman stated that the bill “prevents an impending eviction disaster by providing tenants who’ve lost their jobs a safe harbor to get healthy and back on their feet while our country recovers from this economic disaster.” Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz called the expiration of the current moratorium on evictions a “ticking time bomb for many tenants who have lost all sources of income during the COVID-19 pandemic….”
An unusual twist under the Act is that, although landlords would be barred from evicting their tenants, they would still be entitled to demand payment of rent, and could even seek and recover a money judgment against a tenant for unpaid rent. This part of the bill has been criticized as “deeply flawed” by tenant advocates, who see a landlord’s right to obtain a money judgment and enforce it against a tenant’s assets as another way to punish tenants who have lost income.
For landlords, this Act leaves open the question of whether they could seek unpaid rent in a “summary proceeding,” which is the usual form of landlord-tenant proceeding. Summary proceedings are typically less expensive and take less time to resolve. If landlords are forced to seek unpaid rent in a “plenary” action, they would likely face significant delays and higher costs.
While the Act would ultimately require the payment of rent at the end of the moratorium, another bill currently in committee in the New York State Senate would totally forgive rent for certain residential tenants and small business commercial tenants, as well as mortgage payments for landlords, for a 90-day period.
Stay tuned as to whether any of this legislation is signed by the Governor and whether any other intervening orders or acts change the state of affairs for landlords and tenants in light of COVID-19. For questions or assistance, please contact Steven Schlesinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or Marci Zinn at email@example.com.