fbpx What rights do I have as a tenant in NY during the pandemic? - Documented
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Apr 20, 2020 | Nicolás Ríos

Q&A: Tenants Rights in NY During the Pandemic

We answer, in simple, the most recurring questions regarding your rights and eviction fears.

Leer en Español.

Latest update: Governor Cuomo announced that the Tenant Safe Harbor Act will be extended until 2021. Link

Also: NYC opened up a site with updates and guides on what to do if you are fearing an eviction. Please visit here

1.- Can you please explain what the differences are between the original moratorium – where evictions were banned – and the one that started after June 20th?

(HJA) Under the Safe Harbor Act, landlords are able to take tenants to housing court where they will have to prove they have been financially impacted by the coronavirus pandemic to avoid eviction. Even if you can prove you have been financially impacted, the judge can order a “money judgment.” This means that you will be legally required to make the rent payment, plus interest. The landlord could also have the rent payments withheld from your bank account or wages. If you cannot prove in court that you have been financially impacted by the pandemic, then you could face eviction.

2.- How does this affect tenants in their everyday life?

(ANHD) Tenants who are financially impacted by COVID-19 and can’t pay rent cannot be evicted (i.e. they won’t receive Marshal’s Notices of Eviction), but we’re not sure how this will be implemented.

Tenants will start receiving Notices of Eviction on existing warrants.

Tenants can be evicted through holdover cases (cases for things other than not paying rent). 

3.- How do you document “the financial impact of the pandemic”?

(Documented) Sending an email or text message to their landlord informing them that they are unable to pay rent because of the pandemic, could be a good idea in case the landlord takes them to court in the future and the tenants would like to use this as evidence.

Another way to document the financial impact of the pandemic if one does not have formal documents includes making a monthly list of expenses and comparing them to what they used to earn before the pandemic hit. If taken to court later down the road, tenants could use this as evidence of financial hardship.

4.- Do I have to comply if a landlord asks for proof that I can’t make rent?

(Documented) Tenants should not feel forced to comply, attorneys advised. The tenant should consult with a housing attorney before turning in any documents. If a landlord threatens to evict a tenant, shows up to the property to pressure the tenant, among others, housing advocates recommend keeping text messages, emails, physical documents and even recording the interactions if they become more aggressive. If the harassment persists, advocates recommend calling 311 or their elected officials. 

“You don’t have to talk to your landlord,” said Sateesh Nori,, the director of the Legal Aid’s Queens Housing Office. “That’s what the courts are for. You can say: ‘I’ll see you when the courts open. Now is not the time to be discussing this during a global pandemic.’” 

5.- Does this mean there could actually be evictions?

(ANHD) Yes. 

6.- What can I do if they get an eviction notice?

(HJA) An eviction notice alone is not enough to legally kick a tenant out though. Landlords must get an order from a court to evict tenants.

Again, this will look differently after June 20th — Tenants may start getting legal eviction notices, but since the courts aren’t fully open (and can’t issue court orders to evict), they don’t have to worry about getting (legally) kicked out but that doesn’t mean landlords won’t try. Tenants should make sure they know their rights, try to stay strong, and not give in to their landlord’s harassment and intimidation.

(Documented) You should call Housing Court Answers at  212-962-4795. Also, check our Guide to Legal Aid in NY

7.- What if I can’t pay my rent this month? 

(HJA) If you can’t pay your rent, you are not alone. Options are available to you. You should reach out to Housing Court Answers at 212-962-4795.

8.- Does this mean that I no longer have to pay my rent?

(HJA) Well, no. You still technically have the obligation to pay. We’re still fighting for real rent relief program for all New Yorkers. Stay tuned.

9.- What happens if the landlord tries to kick me out? What should I do?

(HJA) Your landlord might still try to harass you, ask you for rent, or tell you they think you’re late. Landlords often send threatening rent demands that seem like court papers, telling you you have 14 days to pay or leave the apartment.  Those are not court papers. A notice from your landlord isn’t an eviction, it’s a threat. Only a judge can evict you. 

The best thing to do if your landlord is threatening you is to learn about your rights as a tenant: https://bit.ly/DerechosArriendo

10.- Can I call the police if the landlord tries to kick me out?

(HJA) While you may call the police, they are unlikely to help you in this situation. They often do the work of the landlord and not the tenant (regardless of what the law says.) So folks should be warned that that is a possibility. 

If the police don’t help and force you to leave, you have been illegally locked out. You may start a proceeding in the Housing Court to be “restored to possession,” which means put back in the apartment.

11.- What should I do if a police officer or a Marshall is trying to evict me. Can they do that?

(Documented) Anyone with knowledge of City marshals attempting to execute on warrants of eviction can report this activity by calling DOI’s Bureau of City Marshals at (212) 825-5953. More information, here.

12.- I rent a room, not a whole place. Can I still be kicked out?

(HJA) If you rent a room, you still have rights. Only a judge can evict you.

13.- Is there any help from New York City?

(HJA) If you are having trouble paying rent or need support, please Call 311, Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, to receive over-the-phone legal assistance with legal questions or issues about tenancy, eviction or landlord-tenant disputes. You can also visit the HRA Legal Services for Tenants webpage or email civiljustice@hra.nyc.gov.

On July 16, New York state-approved a rent relief program but undocumented people are ineligible to apply for. Housing Justice For All is calling for a universal rent relief program that would provide rent support for undocumented people.

Andrea Salcedo and Mazin Sidahmed contributed reporting.

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