Housing FAQs during COVID-19

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Landlord/Tenant – Evictions


New York State adopted the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (S.9114/A.11181) – Effective December 28, 2020

** Please note that this is merely a summary and not intended to provide legal advice. Each case shall be assessed on a case-by-case basis. If you need legal assistance, please contact Dorothy Adams at 716-853-9555 ext. 453 or email Jennifer Kimura at jkimura@legalaidbuffalo.org.

What does this mean?

Generally, the legislation creates a moratorium (or freeze) on residential evictions until May 1, 2021 for tenants that have a covid-related hardship.

What if I had a pending eviction court date?

Any eviction proceedings, filed from before March 7, 2020 or commenced by January 27, 2021, will be automatically stayed (postponed) for at least sixty (60) days so that tenants can submit the hardship declaration.

What is the hardship declaration?

It is a document which a tenant must sign disclosing that either:

(A) You are experiencing financial hardship and unable to pay rent because:

  1. Significant loss of household income during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  2. Increase in necessary out-of-pocket expenses related to performing essential work or related to health impacts during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  3. Childcare responsibilities or responsibilities to care for an elderly, disabled, or sick family member during the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively affected my ability or the ability of someone in my household to obtain meaningful employment or earn income or increased my necessary out-of-pocket expenses;
  4. Moving expenses and difficulty I have securing alternative housing make it a hardship for me to relocate to another residence during the COVID-19 pandemic;
  5. Other circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic have negatively affected my ability to obtain meaningful employment or earn income or have significantly reduced my household income or significantly increased my expenses.

(B) Vacating and moving to new housing will pose a significant health risk because members of the household have increased risk to illness due to age, pre-existing conditions, etc.

The hardship declaration is available to be reviewed, printed, and signed here: http://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/SSI/images/corona/HardshipDeclaration.pdf

What happens if I had an eviction court date but a warrant of eviction was not issued?

· If tenant can prove and submit a hardship declaration, it must be given to the landlord or landlord’s agent promptly. The landlord or landlord’s agent must submit the signed hardship declaration to the court with the case number (index number) on it.

· The tenant may also directly submit the hardship declaration to the court with the case number (index number) on it.

· If this is properly done, the court will stay the eviction until May 1, 2021.

What happens if I had eviction court and a warrant of eviction was issued but not executed (or enforced by the Marshal/Sheriff’s office)?

· The court shall stay the execution of the warrant until the court is able to have a status conference.

· If the tenant provides a hardship declaration, the execution of the warrant will be stayed until May 1, 2021.

· If the tenant provides the hardship to the landlord or landlord’s agent, the landlord or agent must submit the signed hardship declaration to the court with the case number (index number) on it.

Are there circumstances where a tenant may still be evicted if the warrant was issued even with this new legislation?

· Yes, there are some.

· If the tenant doesn’t return the hardship declaration even after it was properly served, then the warrant can go forward.

· If the court found that the tenant was persistently and unreasonably engaging in behavior that is infringing on other tenants’ rights or causes substantial safety hazards to others.

  • Note: if this is the case, the court will have a hearing to determine whether or not the tenant has continued to engage in unlawful behavior.
    • If the landlord fails to prove that the tenant is engaging in such unlawful behavior, the warrant can be stayed until May 1, 2021.
What if I did not show up to court?

If the court issued a default judgment against a tenant, it will automatically be removed and the matter will be restored on the court calendar upon the tenant’s written or verbal request.

What if I do not show up to court now?

No courts shall issue a default judgment without first holding a hearing.

Do I still need to pay rent?

Yes. The legislation did not provide for a rent freeze or forgiveness.

The Governor did not stop rent payments. If you do not pay your rent, you are at risk of being evicted once the moratorium ends for all of the months that you did not pay. Communicate with your landlord about your own situation. It may be helpful to work out an arrangement.

I lost my job due to Covid-19 and cannot pay my rent, where can I get help?

Currently, many local jurisdictions have their own individual rental assistance programs up and running. Please call 211 for assistance with this.

My landlord threatened to change my locks, what should I do?

A landlord cannot change your locks without proper court intervention. This is called a constructive eviction or an illegal lockout. If this happens, please contact the Legal Aid Housing Unit at 716-853-9555 x. 453 for immediate assistance. If you are locked out, you can all call the police.

My lease expired and I am still in my apartment because I cannot find a new apartment due to Covid-19. Can my landlord kick me out?

A landlord will still have to file for an eviction if you have overstayed your time in the apartment. This is called a holdover eviction. A landlord will still have to wait until the moratorium has been lifted.

I planned on moving but I can’t and my landlord is trying to show my unit to other people and I don’t feel comfortable letting anyone in during the covid-19 crisis. What should I do?

This is an uncharted time right now. In New York State, the Governor issued Executive Orders for residents to “socially distance themselves.” There are major health concerns by letting others inside a unit.

  • Practical Tips:
    • Putting in writing to your landlord your concerns of the public health risks and refusing to let anyone inside.
    • Perhaps offer your landlord an alternative by taking a video and sending it to the landlord.

Your landlord might try to sue you for damages in small claims court for any loss of rental income, but right now, small claims court cases are not being heard.

I live in a public housing complex and I cannot pay my portion of rent. I am afraid I will be evicted from my unit. What can I do?

On March 27, 2020, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). This gives qualified units a 120-day moratorium (or freeze) on evictions due to non-payment. This means that you cannot be evicted until the moratorium lifts on July 24, 2020.

  • Any fees or penalties related to the non-payment of rent will also be halted.
  • A tenant and family must repay any unpaid rent after the moratorium has been lifted.
  • Please note that if you had a pending eviction prior to March 27, 2020, then once the courts re-open, you can be evicted prior to July 24, 2020.

Homeowners – Mortgage and Taxes

I am a homeowner and have fallen behind on my mortgage – will I be foreclosed on?
  • Similar to evictions, mortgage and tax foreclosure proceedings have been put on hold until May 1, 2021.

  • Homeowners or a landlord who owns smaller than 10 residential properties must file a hardship declaration with their mortgage lender or any other foreclosing party to prevent the foreclosure.

  • Local governments cannot engage in tax foreclosure sales until at least May 1, 2021.

  • A copy of the hardship declaration specific to homeowners can be found here: https://www.tax.ny.gov/pdf/current_forms/orpts/rp1102ds_fill_in.pdf

Housing Code Violations

I own my house and my water was shut off due to non-payment. What can I do?
  • If you live in the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Water will turn your water back on. You must call #716-847-1065.
  • If you live outside of the City of Buffalo, the Erie County Water Authority is also proactively restoring water and you can call them at #716-849-8444.
I have a court case in Buffalo City Housing Court that was scheduled at the end of April, do I need to go to court?
  • On April 15, 2020, the Hon. Paula Feroleto, Administrative Judge of the Eighth Judicial District, stated that for defendants not in custody, all non-essential matters are adjourned to a date on or after May 30, 2020.
    • It is unknown if the date will be pushed out even farther due to ongoing public health concerns.
  • If you are a current housing court client, please contact the housing unit at 716-853-9555 ext. 453 for any questions or concerns.
    • Once we have a new court date, we will be contacting our current clients.
I am a tenant living in a house and I have concerns about the roof. What should I do?
  • If you are in the City of Buffalo, you can still call 311 and report code violations.
  • If you are outside of the City of Buffalo, you can contact your local jurisdiction’s code enforcement office.

Housing Discrimination

I am a tenant and I contracted covid-19. My landlord is threatening me to evict me and I’m scared that I will be homeless. What can I do?

A landlord cannot discriminate against or evict a tenant because the tenant contracted covid-19, or someone the tenant lives with contracted covid-19, or if the landlord suspects the tenant contracted covid-19.

Please note that a landlord cannot discriminate against by treating an individual differently based on race/color, ethnicity, and/or immigration status because the tenant is from, or looks like the tenant is from, a country where there is a serious covid-19 outbreak.

Additionally, landlords and other tenants cannot harass other tenants because the tenant is from, or looks like the tenant is from, a country where there is a serious covid-19 outbreak.

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