I’ve lost income as a result of the coronavirus and can’t pay my rent. I know there’s an eviction moratorium now, but what happens when that ends?
First, read this previous column from Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations, about how to negotiate with your landlord—or break your lease, if that’s a better option for you—when you’re having trouble paying the rent.
And now there’s potentially good news on the horizon for tenants in your situation. New York state officials have co-sponsored a bill that would effectively extend the current 90-day moratorium on evictions by preventing landlords from evicting tenants for non-payment of rent throughout the state of emergency and for six months after its end.
Specifically, what this bill proposes is that for six months following the end of the state of emergency in New York, landlords who want to sue tenants for nonpayment of rent would have to bring cases to civil court, not housing court.
“If you get sued for nonpayment of rent in housing court and you don’t pay whatever the judge tells you to pay, or if you settle the case and don’t pay what you agreed to, you can be evicted,” Himmelstein explains. “A settlement agreement often includes a money judgement and a possessory judgement, which means if you don’t make a rent payment, the landlord can have you evicted.”
In civil court, by contrast, nonpayment of rent would be considered a breach of contract case, and the landlord could sue you for money, but not to get you kicked out. You would also still be able to defend yourself—by citing poor conditions in your apartment, for example—or raise the issue of economic distress.
If you lost the case, the judge would only issue a money judgement, not a possessory judgement. Unfortunately, this can still come with unpleasant consequences.
“The landlord has ways of enforcing a money judgement—they can seize your bank accounts, and put a lien on any property you own, and those judgements are good for 20 years,” Himmelstein says. “You may be out of work now but if you get a job in the future, the landlord can garnish your wages up to 10 percent, and serve you with a subpoena asking you to identify your bank accounts. If you don’t respond, you can be held in contempt.”
The upside is that you won’t lose your home, nor will your credit be negatively affected by any unsatisfied judgements against you. While not ideal, the bill offers better protections for struggling tenants than what they have now.
“I think it has a much better chance of passing than a total moratorium on rent,” Himmelstein says.
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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. For a free 10-minute legal consultation, email Sam or call (212) 349-3000.