Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill late Tuesday that will block tenants from being evicted for any unpaid rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NYS Tenant Safe Harbor Act, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, expands on the governor’s executive order which placed a moratorium on evictions, but was set to expire on August 20.
“It's permanent protection for tenants who suffered financial hardship even after the COVID-19 State of Emergency ends,” Senator Hoylman explained.
This act protects renters for any unpaid rent for as long as regions still remain partially closed.
However, landlords can still take these tenants to court and seek a money judgement instead.
“It’s going to be up to judges to decide what financial hardship actually means,” Hoylman said. “There is no black and white text. Often I think it will be a case by case basis.”
When the governor signed this bill, he added in a statement saying that a tenant who “willfully withholds rent” who is not financially impacted by the pandemic can face legal action.
This was welcome news to Debbie Pusatere, president of the Capital Region Apartment Association, who says many courts around the state have been reluctant to take up these cases.
“I’m just praying to God that that this new bill that was just passed will enable me to say hey, we were in court in January and you failed to make your payments. So guess what? You’re abusing, you’ve got to go,” Pusatere explained. “It’s not right.”
Pusatere says she has been working with tenants that have been laid off during the pandemic and have been struggling to pay their rent.
However, she says in June, 40 percent of her tenants were not paying rent, and many of those she believes were just taking advantage of the situation.
“Some people are still waiting on unemployment if you can believe it,” Pusatere said. “But they’re sending me screenshots of everything that they’re doing. And you know what, awesome. I’m waiting, they’re being honest with me, I’m being patient. I borrowed some money to cover some bills. It’s those people who aren’t truly affected that I know are working, that I see going to work every day, that aren’t returning my calls, not responding to my letters and this is since March. And they’re not paying. And those are the people that I’m hoping this bill will call on the carpet.”
Courts across the state have been slowly opening back up over the past month.