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Ask Sam: Am I covered by the CDC or New York ban on evictions? What happens when they end?

The CDC's order for an eviction moratorium only applies to tenants who meet specific qualifications. 

Austin Havens-Bown for Brick Underground/Flickr

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Question:

I haven’t been paying my full rent after losing my job because of Covid. Am I protected under the eviction moratoriums from the CDC or New York? What’s the difference? And what do I do if I’m not covered by these?

Answer:

New York tenants are protected from eviction at the state and federal level under different guidelines, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants, tenant associations, and co-op shareholders.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order extending eviction relief for residential tenants through the end of the year, but it doesn’t apply to everyone. To qualify, renters have to affirm they can’t make rent payments due to “substantial loss of household income,” a layoff, or expensive out-of-pocket medical bills, along with meeting a number of other financial requirements, CNBC reports. Tenants must give a declaration form to their landlord specifying all this in order to be protected from eviction until December 31st.

“If a tenant thinks they’re covered by the CDC guidelines and are worried about eviction between now and the end of the year, consult an attorney,” says Ronald Languedoc, a partner at HMDGJ Law. “Any tenant in New York can get free legal advice by calling 311.”

Meanwhile, New York City residential tenants are currently protected by court guidance stating that eviction proceedings filed after March 17th, 2020 are suspended through October 1st.

However, top city judges now say that going forward, they will stop extending eviction moratoriums and leave policy decisions to the New York state legislature.

Protections at the federal and local levels

“Eviction is specifically defined in the CDC order as any action by a landlord to pursue eviction and remove a person [who qualifies under the order] from a residential property,” Languedoc says. “Tenant attorneys are saying they don’t think a tenant who is covered by the CDC order can be subject to any serving of court papers, court dates, or filing of court dates against them.” 

New York city and state moratoriums, meanwhile, apply to everyone through October 1st. After that date, tenants who qualify under the CDC’s regulation will still be protected from eviction, as federal laws take precedence over state or local ones.

Furthermore, NYC renters not covered by the CDC guidelines won’t be expected to appear in court right away if their landlord begins eviction proceedings against them.

“Cuomo’s order extends the statute of limitation and deadlines, and courts are interpreting that to mean that landlords can file cases against tenants, but the time tenants have to answer has been extended indefinitely,” Himmelstein says. “On a practical level, new cases aren’t going to be processed unless tenants appear and defend cases.”

What happens after October 1st?

New York tenants who are unable to pay rent and are not covered by the CDC moratorium are potentially subject to eviction after the city moratorium ends on October 1st—but it’s unlikely they would be evicted immediately.

“There are a lot of things a landlord has to go through to get an eviction,” Languedoc says.

Tenants who had judgments against them before the outbreak of coronavirus could face eviction if their landlord already had a warrant of eviction or is entitled to one. However, there is a substantial backlog of pre-Covid housing court cases that were stopped on March 17th, and the dates for resuming these cases have yet to be determined.

Moreover, tenants now have a greater opportunity to defend themselves.

“Before this, if a landlord had a judgment or was entitled to get a warrant of eviction, all they had to do was take it to clerk’s office and requisition a warrant,” Himmelstein says. “The court would issue it and the marshal would serve a notice. But now landlords have to make a motion to give tenants the opportunity to be heard.”

Languedoc says he expects to see a number of new eviction cases after October 1st as landlords test the waters, but that few tenants will face an imminent threat of eviction.

“If a tenant receives court papers and consults with an attorney, they’ll find out the case is going to move slowly,” he says. “Landlords may be hoping that papers will cause tenants to try to get money together or make plans to move out. Some tenants will do these things, but others will just wait until the courts schedule the matter.”

Landlords also may rush to file cases as soon as they can, given the backlog of pre-Covid cases.

“With courts starting up again and handling cases in order of when they were filed, landlords may be thinking they might as well get in line,” Himmelstein says. “But we’ve heard the earliest courts expect physical appearances is next year, so not much is going to happen until then.”

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Sam Himmelstein, Esq. represents NYC tenants and tenant associations in disputes over evictions, rent increases, rental conversions, rent stabilization law, lease buyouts, and many other issues. He is a partner at Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph in Manhattan. To submit a question for this column, click here. To ask about a legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.