New York will limit evictions, foreclosures in pandemic

New York will freeze evictions and certain foreclosures for two months under a bill the state's governor said Monday he plans to sign.

Renters who are facing pending evictions — or who face evictions in the next 30 days — would be protected from eviction for at least 60 days. 

And the law would also suspend evictions until May 1 for renters who submit signed paperwork stating they've faced hardship amid the coronavirus pandemic. New Yorkers could point to hardships ranging from significant loss of household income, to increased out-of-pocket health expenses, to caregiving responsibilities, to the risk that moving itself poses for individuals with underlying medical conditions that leave them vulnerable to COVID-19.

The legislation would also make it harder for banks to foreclose on smaller landlords who say they are facing similar hardships, including having a tenant who's defaulted on significant amount of rent payments since March 2020. The bill would protect landlords who own fewer than 10 dwelling units from foreclosure or tax liens until May 1.

At least 930,000 individuals have tested positive for COVID-19 in New York so far this year and more than 37,000 people have died, according to the state's dashboard and data compiled by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. 

It's unclear just how many New Yorkers and companies are struggling to pay rent or face looming evictions. The state's unemployment rate increased to 8.1% in November, up from 3.6% in November 2019. That's compared to a 6.4% national unemployment rate in November. 

Lawmakers who support the law stressed Monday that the law isn't designed to "cancel rent" but to keep people in their homes and avoid an increase in homelessness.

"People are struggling, some people are dying," Bronx state Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat, said. "Tenants aren't gaming the system, they're desperate."

But Republicans — and several Democrats who ultimately supported the bill — warned the bill could violate due process rights for landlords, and fuel a wave of foreclosures after May 1. Landlord industry groups said a blanket moratorium would push New York City into bankruptcy and destroy affordable housing infrastructure, while other critics said the lack of income restrictions could simply let wealthy residents avoid financial obligations.

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"I am concerned however that this time this bill, that safety net is now falling to landlords, particularly small landlords," said Assembly member Patricia Fahy, a Democrat who represents parts of Albany County. "In the past, the responsibility of providing a safety net to those who need it has fallen to government."

Meanwhile, both supporters and critics said the bill doesn't address the looming crisis of renters and landlords facing months of unpaid bills. President Donald Trump signed Sunday a massive COVID-19 aid bill that includes $25 billion for states and local governments to help people facing eviction.

"There has not been nearly enough done to prevent a full-blown housing crisis from erupting as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic," Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris said in a statement. "This moratorium is a good step to ensure New Yorkers don't get thrown out of their homes at a time when we're asking people to stay in their homes. We must do even more to provide real relief in the months ahead."

The state Senate passed the bill Monday afternoon and the Assembly continued debate into the evening. The bill had strong support from Democrats — who control the Legislature and won a supermajority in November.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has pledged to extend the current eviction moratorium beyond its Jan. 1 expiration. Cuomo's executive order has blocked evictions for those who prove financial hardship, but housing advocates said it imposes a high hurdle.