Renters nationwide have a new chance for reprieve from evictions until the end of 2020.
A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order bans evictions across the country for those making under $99,000 a year or who received a coronavirus stimulus check -- a move tenant advocates cautioned still doesn't protect all tenants.
The nationwide eviction moratorium goes beyond the federal protections under the CARES Act, which expired in late July and only applied to housing with federally-related financing or assistance. The moratorium could help out the country's some 43 million renters, the CDC estimates.
"[H]ousing stability helps protect public health because homelessness increases the likelihood of individuals moving into congregate settings, such as homeless shelters, which then puts individuals at higher risk to COVID-19," the CDC order reads, detailing how the coronavirus spread would be exacerbated across state lines if tenants are forced to move out, whether to the streets, crowded shelters, or with family and friends.
Under the order, tenants still owe the rent, eventually.
Renters must meet one of three requirements to qualify: make less than $99,000 this year, did not have to pay income taxes last year, or received a federal stimulus check. Those seeking relief will have to sign a declaration they're unable to pay rent due to lost income or "extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses," and that they've tried to pay some rent or seek government assistance. They must certify an eviction would force them into homelessness or shared living conditions. Renters would also have to sign a statement acknowledging their landlord could require the rental payments in full as soon as the moratorium expires—January 1st.
The order adds to a layer continuously changing protections (or lack thereof) for tenants—like the New York State Tenant Safe Harbor Act that protects renters who suffered financial hardship during the pandemic, or the current moratorium for tenants facing eviction due to court cases before the pandemic, which ends October 1st.
"Confusion is a big concern, but beyond that, I think our main concerns are [that] it's asking tenants to potentially sign away some rights," Cea Weaver, a campaign coordinator for Housing Justice for All, told Gothamist. "We're really afraid that someone might sign that to buy a few months rent."
"We're concerned about what unintended consequences [await] people who might sign this letter," she said.
The new measure is something the courts can consider to keep tenants housed, though it remains to be seen how it would be used in courts.
New York courts system spokesperson Lucian Chalfen says, "New York courts will be able to apply these requirements to both pending and newly filed eviction cases" under an order outlined in the Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks's order from mid-August, which extended the ban on evictions until October 1st, but allows cases to go before a judge once more in the interim for renters facing evictions before the pandemic. In-person cases filed before the pandemic in which both parties have attorneys have begun with socially distanced protocols, though most have opted for virtual trials.
Mitchell Posilkin, general counsel of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords, called the CDC order "just another nail in the coffin for property owners in New York City."
"The fact that there is no COVID connection is really rather alarming," he said of the CDC's order language, which does not require tenants to show their lost income is because of the coronavirus. "What's being created here, slowly but surely, is a system in which neighbors are looking at their neighbors who are not paying their rent and they realize that they too don't have to pay because there’s no consequences—or there's certainly no consequences for the foreseeable future.”
Property owners have property taxes, mortgages, utilities, and insurance to pay, so they need the rent, he added.
Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney with the Civil Law Reform Unit at the Legal Aid Society, called the Trump administration's move "shocking but also a welcome surprise."
"Unfortunately, this regulation will not extend relief to tenants in unregulated apartments where the landlord can avoid the moratorium by bringing a case based on non-renewal of the tenant's lease," she said in a statement. That means tenants whose lease ends or who violate some type of provision could still be evicted through a case called a "holdover."
The legal aid group called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to enact a more encompassing moratorium to help all tenants "before it is too late."
It is also recommending renters seek legal advice before applying.
Live on @BrianLehrer:
Q: How would a renter qualify for the CDC eviction moratorium?
A: We are advising everyone to consult with an attorney before applying. Free legal advice is available by calling 311 or Legal Aid's A2B hotline: https://t.co/iPjwOuv3Ks— The Legal Aid Society (@LegalAidNYC) September 2, 2020
Landlords who violate the CDC's order would face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines or jail time, and the fines are higher if the violation results in someone dying, according to the language of the agency's order.
Despite all the caveats to the measure, President Donald Trump said in a statement on Tuesday: "I want to make it unmistakably clear that I'm protecting people from evictions."
Housing advocates are still pushing for State Senator Zellnor Myrie's and Assemblymember Karines Reyes's legislation—which would prohibit evictions of all residential and commercial tenants as well as foreclosures on the properties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's common sense to keep people housed, right now," said Weaver.
"It pushes the cost up the ladder to the lender to also prevent foreclosures" in what she called a "comprehensive approach" to the issue.
The Right to Counsel Coalition said in a statement the proposed measure is "the real eviction moratorium that NYers need."
Governor Cuomo's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Spokespersons for New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not immediately respond to questions either. We'll update if we hear back.