New York’s court system has been extending the pause on evictions for months, kicking the can down the road. But now the state Office of Court Administration (OCA) intends to put a stop to that and place the onus back on Governor Andrew Cuomo or the state Legislature to come up with a less ad hoc solution. This means that, unless Albany acts, New York’s moratorium on residential evictions won’t be extended beyond October 1, setting the stage for thousands of evictions across New York in five weeks.
The revelation came from New York City administrative judge Anthony Cannataro on a Zoom call with Bronx attorneys Wednesday afternoon, confirming that the OCA does not plan to continue its hold on evictions into October “until we hear otherwise from the other branches of government.” That would force an end to months of the governor punting the tough call of whether or not to extend the state’s moratorium to the court system.
What’s at stake are tenant protections that could keep 14,500 New Yorkers from the imminent risk of losing their homes once the moratorium expires, as well as the 200,000 eviction cases that were filed prior to the pandemic that will eventually follow.
“We’re going to have to muster the political will to dream big on our solutions,” said Brooklyn state senator Zellnor Myrie, sponsor of a bill that would enact a blanket eviction moratorium for a full year after New York ends its ongoing state of emergency. “The courts are recognizing that the solution to the impending eviction crisis cannot be a patchwork effort and that there is inherent instability in having to extend a moratorium at the whims of the judiciary or by executive order.”
Since his initial blanket moratorium expired in June, Cuomo has issued a series of executive orders that have enabled the OCA to stretch its suspension of evictions, often with month-to-month directives. The court’s latest order, issued by New York chief administrative judge Lawrence Marks, is set to expire in early October. Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for OCA, confirmed that the agency does not expect to issue new guidance on evictions.
As Judge Marks told legislators at a State Senate hearing on the subject last week, these piecemeal extensions of the moratorium are impractical solutions to a far-reaching issue. that requires a broader policy approach. “Frankly, the state can’t rely on us indefinitely to address that very controversial issue,” Marks said during the hearing. He stressed that he is still “very concerned about a mad rush of eviction cases in the courthouses, particularly in New York City,” that will unfold unless lawmakers “focus on the problem.”
Tenant advocates have pinned their hopes on both Myrie’s bill and another introduced by Manhattan assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou that would cancel rent and certain mortgage payments accrued between March 7 and 90 days after the state lifts its final pandemic-related restrictions.
Cea Weaver, the campaign coordinator with the Housing Justice for All coalition, says that Myrie’s bill, which would enact a sweeping eviction moratorium, is the immediate priority to protect vulnerable renters. “We were already in a housing crisis, and this economic crisis is just going to make recovery so much harder for people,” said Weaver. “We need a long moratorium to allow folks to catch back up.”
That bill is gradually gaining traction but currently does not have enough support to pass the Legislature. Myrie believes that is because the state’s eviction moratoriums have kept New Yorkers temporarily in their homes, and policy-makers may not “grasp the magnitude of the impending eviction crisis.” He is hopeful that the Office of Court Administration drawing a judicial line in the sand could push more legislators to get onboard with the bill.
Yet even a prolonged moratorium is still only a stopgap measure for New York renters. Myrie says the “eviction floodgates” will continue to open unless the federal government provides a massive injection of resources to fund relief programs for tenants and small landlords. Without that aid, New York’s housing courts will be left to grapple with an overburdened system come October.
Judge Daniele Chinea, president of the Housing Court Judges Association, which represents 50 housing judges in New York City, testified at last week’s State Senate hearing that lawmakers must ease the mounting debt of tenants and landlords rather than rely on judges to exercise their discretion, given that both sides are buckling under crippling financial stress.
“What are the parameters for deciding whose tragedy is worse?” Judge Chinea questioned during the hearing. “Asking 50 judges to adjudicate this nightmare on a case-by-case basis is not a solution, and we need a solution.”