Some new renter relief measures from Mayor Bill de Blasio would go a long way toward helping tenants who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. But most of these proposals require the state’s action to make them happen, making them unlikely to succeed in full.
At a press conference yesterday, the mayor outlined the support enacted for renters so far, including New York state’s eviction moratorium, as well as next steps he would like to see, including calling on the state to give tenants who have lost income the ability to defer their rent payments. It's just not clear that there's any interest in Albany in taking this issue on, especially since last year's rent laws enacted new tenant protections that made landlords howling mad.
“Give tenants the ability to defer their rent payments and repay over the next 12 months on a payment plan,” de Blasio says. “There's I think some clear ways to put this together that protect tenants and respect the rights of landlords and make sure that everyone is whole in the end...That's something I think the state should do as well, as quickly as possible.”
Governor Cuomo, who has seen his political clout ascend thanks to his daily briefings about the pandemic, has been largely quiet about a rent moratorium. His comments in late March summed up his stance: The issue has been resolved through the state’s 90-day suspension on evictions. Also shedding doubt on the governor and the mayor’s inability to work together even in a time of crisis: Their historic rivalry recently flared anew over who has the power to say when New York City’s public school can reopen.
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Among his other new proposals, the mayor also called on the state to extend the eviction moratorium for 60 days beyond the end of the crisis. The mayor doesn’t have any levers to pull to make this happen, however, there are proposals from lawmakers in Albany to extend the prohibition on evictions for six months after the end of the crisis.
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The mayor also says he is launching a tenant hotline. Renters can call 311 to find out their rights. A lot of tenants “don't know how to navigate this, they're running out of money, they want to know where they can get relief,” de Blasio says.
Among his past actions to date, de Blasio notes, we're calling on the Rent Guidelines Board to freeze rents for the two million-plus New Yorkers living in rent-stabilized housing.
The mayor also previously urged the state to allow renters to use their security deposit to pay their rent.
“There’s no reason at this point given how much dislocation has occurred that a security deposit is sitting in a bank account, not helping anyone when it could be used to pay the rent, help the renter, help the landlord have money to pay their expenses. That is the kind of thing we need to do in the middle of a crisis, and I want to see the State act on that,” he says.
This last recommendation may not require state action at all. Under normal conditions you are not supposed to use your security deposit to pay last month’s rent—it is intended to be used to cover the cost of repairing damage to your apartment after you vacate. Historically many renters have done so anyway, and there’s not much landlords can do about the practice, unless there’s excessive damage, in which case they can sue to recover the costs.
Catharine Grad, a tenant attorney at Grad and Weintraub, questions whether the legislature could mandate landlords using the security deposit as rent when it is part of an already agreed-upon contract between a landlord and tenant. In a recent Brick Underground article, she also cautioned against using the funds for these purposes, especially as you are prevented from being evicted for nonpayment during the pandemic anyway.
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