New York Governor extends eviction moratorium to January, landlords despair

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

I’ve been writing about the “eviction crisis” since July of last year and unfortunately, nothing much has changed in the ensuing 14 months. Sooner or later the eviction moratoriums would have to come to an end and then there could potentially be a large number of people who were behind on their rent by more than a year being evicted from their rental units. But the more time dragged on, landlords would increasingly be going under because they still had to keep up with all of the usual taxes, utilities and maintenance costs. After the Supreme Court struck down part of the CDC’s latest extension on the eviction moratorium, some of those landlords thought that the end was in sight. But on Thursday, New York Governor Kathy Hochul threw them back under the bus by signing an executive order extending the moratorium until January. For many landlords caught up in this mess, they don’t believe they can hang on that long. (CBS New York)

New York state now boasts the strongest tenant protections in the nation.

On Thursday, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law the extension of the eviction moratorium for homes and businesses, after part of it was struck down last month by the Supreme Court.

But as CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported, struggling landlords say nearly two years of no rent is too long.

CBS interviewed one “mom and pop” landlord named Eric Thompson who hasn’t received the $2,000 per month rent on a home he owns in Lindenhurst in more than a year. He’s offered his tenant options, such as simply forgiving the rent and helping to pay her moving expenses. But the tenant, a substitute teacher and tutor, has flatly refused to go. Thompson is now on the verge of losing his home.

The handling of these eviction moratorium laws has largely been a case of kicking the can down the road for going on two years now. It didn’t have to be this way, though. The federal government made large sums available in the first COVID relief bill to help renters pay their rent, thus giving landlords a chance to stay afloat. New York received nearly three billion dollars in federal rental assistance funds. But thus far, barely 10% of that money has actually been paid out.

Hochul is saying that this extension will give people more time to apply for assistance and get back up to date. But it’s a time-consuming process that can stretch on for months. The courts are already backlogged with requests and the burden of proof falls on the landlord, driving up their legal costs. Meanwhile, we’ve also seen stories of people who received the rental assistance funds but still refused to turn the money over to their landlords.

None of this was thought through when these programs were put into place. The government at both the federal and state levels was in such a rush to look like they were “doing something” rather than facing political criticism for inaction that the problem has now morphed from a temporary nuisance into a monster.

There may still be a way out of this debacle if legislators and executive officials are willing to put in the work. It shouldn’t be that difficult to streamline the aid application process. Landlords have to keep records of their rental income and expenses. If they can show that rent hasn’t been paid in a year while the moratorium was in effect, they should essentially qualify by default. If so, the state could arrange to pay the delinquent rent directly to the landlords in exchange for an agreement that they would not seek to evict the tenant, provided they start making their payments again in a timely fashion.

But that would probably make too much sense for any state legislators to consider it, right? Instead, we’ll just watch as this entirely predictable problem becomes more and more of a legal morass. And in the meantime, a lot of small-business landlords are watching their retirement plans going up in smoke.