The City Council is proposing an up to year-long pause on evictions “for New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19” as part of a legislative relief package addressing the pandemic.
Under the bill, city marshals and sheriffs would be barred from claiming and restoring property or executing money judgements—usually the amount of back rent owed—during the pandemic. This would effectively halt evictions and debt collection for both residential and commercial tenants until September 30, following the expiration of state and federal eviction moratoriums, according to draft bill text obtained by Curbed.
The legislation, which is sponsored by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, would also prevent city officials from collecting debts and carrying out evictions on New Yorkers impacted by COVID-19 until April 2021. The measure is intended as a stopgap solution for renters until the state and federal government can provide greater relief, says Johnson.
“It’s essential that New Yorkers get the rent cancellation they need, but in the meantime, we need to give renters peace of mind that we won’t let them suffer irreparable harms,” said Johnson, referring to the statewide push to cancel rent payments for New York tenants.
A draft of the bill broadly defines those impacted by COVID-19 as those who have suffered “a substantial loss of income” causing them to claim federal or state unemployment benefits on or after March 7, or who have worked fewer than three days and earned less than $504 because they or a member of their household was diagnosed with or experienced symptoms of COVID-19; were providing care for a sick family member; or were unable to access their place of work because of the pandemic and state-mandated closures. Those who “quit a job as a direct result of COVID-19” would also qualify, according to the draft bill text. The eviction extension would not require additional state approvals, says Council spokesperson Jacob Tugendrajch.
Exceptions could be made, however, by order of the mayor or governor, if a matter falls under the jurisdiction of family court, or if a court finds that a renter has not suffered a substantial loss of income because of COVID-19, according to the bill as currently drafted.
The proposal is the latest of several measures put forward by city and state lawmakers offering tenants some sort of legislative relief from the pandemic’s economic fallout. It’s part of a sprawling package of Council legislation, set to be introduced at Wednesday’s first-ever remote hearing, aimed at aiding New Yorkers during the novel coronavirus crisis by seeking to bolster tenant protections, require hazard pay for essential workers under a “NYC Essential Workers Bill of Rights,” open up 75 miles of city streets to promote social distancing, and mandate private rooms for single homeless adults, among other provisions.
“It is inhumane and dangerous to allow New Yorkers to remain in unsafe shelter conditions,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin, the lead sponsor of a bill that would require the city to provide each single homeless adult in the city’s shelter system—where social distancing is a Herculean effort—with a private room throughout the pandemic. Currently, roughly 4,500 of the city’s 17,000 single adults in the shelter system have their own room, with 2,000 being moved into hotels beginning last week, according to the Department of Homeless Services.
Another bill spearheaded by Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres would amend the city’s definition of harassment, making it illegal for unscrupulous landlords to harass tenants out of their homes due to COVID-19. Violators would be slapped with fines starting at $2,000 and rising up to $10,000. (Fines against those who harass commercial tenants would be between $10,000 and $50,000 under a separate bill geared toward small businesses.) Housing attorneys lauded the Council’s measures, but stressed the importance of statewide protections from the governor and lawmakers in Albany.
“I think we’ve all seen what happens to the homeless in this crisis: They get sick; they die,” said Ellen Davidson, a housing attorney with the Legal Aid Society. “To me, throwing people into the streets would only prolong that health crisis. So it is a meaningful step … but COVID-19 is a statewide problem and we need a statewide solution.”