New York State’s eviction ban ends August 31st. Can I be kicked out for owing back rent?
You may have a few options to protect yourself from eviction, and even if your landlord sues you, there is a long backlog in housing courts, says Sam Himmelstein, a lawyer with the firm Himmelstein, McConnell, Gribben, Donoghue & Joseph who represents residential and commercial tenants and tenant associations.
“The big unknown is how the courts are going to function once the moratorium expires," Himmelstein says. “We don’t know what combination of virtual and in-person appearances they’re going to do. Plus, there are estimates that if you had a case filed within the last two to three months, you may not get a hearing for at least a year because the courts are going to process cases in the order in which they came in.”
New York State’s ban on residential and commercial evictions protects tenants not only from eviction for nonpayment of rent during the Covid-19 pandemic, but also stays housing court proceedings.
Under the eviction moratorium, there are additional measures that residential tenants can take if their landlords try to sue them for nonpayment of rent, including filling out a hardship declaration form and delivering it to their landlords.
“The only cases we’re aware of pending in housing court now are cases with tenants who have not filled out the Covid hardship declaration,” says Jesse Gribben, partner with HMGDJ Law. “We’ll see a lot of cases being brought to court when the moratorium ends, but the courts are going to have to deal with getting all these on their calendars.”
Tenants behind on rent may also be qualified for another form of protection against eviction. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which opened on June 1st, provides relief to low- and moderate-income households at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent.
“The process of applying for ERAP is not onerous, and that is what I would recommend any tenant in the city do if they qualify and owe rent,” Gribben says. “Potentially, they could get their rent paid, and it will also stay any housing court proceeding if the applicant hasn’t already been sued. No judge will issue judgements or warrants of eviction when the tenant could have their rental arrears taken care of by this program.”
Tenants who do not qualify for ERAP should keep in mind that the moratorium expiring does not mean immediate eviction. Landlords still must follow the steps required to evict someone, which gives tenants time to prepare a defense. (And remember it will likely be a while before housing court schedules a hearing for you because of the long backlog of cases.)
“Tenants still have a right to a trial, and some tenants have defenses. There may be bad conditions in the apartment, or a dispute about what’s owed, or a landlord may claim that an apartment is not stabilized when it actually might be,” Himmelstein says.
If you do end up having to appear in housing court, note that the Right to Counsel has been expanded in New York, which means that all tenants who qualify based on income can get free representation in housing court for eviction cases.
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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.