ALBANY — Republicans and landlords pushed back Wednesday against a Democratic proposal to extend the eviction moratorium originally passed to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Assembly Minority Conference held a virtual press conference Wednesday morning calling on state lawmakers to end the moratorium that denies property owners the ability to evict tenants who do not pay their rent.
A vote on the extension was originally slated for this week in the state Legislature, but on Wednesday the vote was delayed until Monday.
The moratorium was first passed in May, early in the COVID-19 pandemic, in an effort to assist tenants who were impacted economically by the coronavirus outbreak.
Opponents of the moratorium said it is hurting small landlords who struggle to make mortgage payments.
“We have crossed the line from protecting tenants facing difficulties to providing near immunity from paying rent,” Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, said. “Temporarily halting evictions made sense as the state was coming to grips with an emerging pandemic, but forcing landlords to house tenants who refuse to pay rent month after month is nothing short of economic cruelty.”
Albany landlord Imeh Smith said giving property owners no recourse against tenants who don’t pay has created its own set of problems.
“Let’s be honest. If you go somewhere and they ask you to pay what you can or make a donation, like the New York State Museum or the Smithsonian, for example, where it’s free, nobody pays if they don’t have to,” Smith said. “It’s human nature. People don’t pay if they don’t have to.”
Rochester landlord Rick Tyson said he recently tabulated how much he is not receiving in rent from tenants who don’t pay.
“We reached a point where we had lost more than our entire property tax liability to both the city of Rochester and Monroe County, which at the time was $87,000,” Tyson said.
Eviction is the last thing most landlords want to do, he said.
“This moratorium is crushing us at this point,” Tyson said, adding that tenants should have to provide proof of economic hardship to qualify for an eviction moratorium.
“All I would really like to see at this point is for the courts to open up and if you are going to fill out a hardship declaration, then show up with the proof that shows you have been impacted, and if you have, let’s utilize that court system to connect those people with the relief that they should then be eligible for if they have in fact experienced a hardship.”
Housing court has remained closed since the beginning of the pandemic, and that has denied landlords due process, Elyse Zaccaro, a West Hampton Beach landlord, said.
“Maybe the moratorium made sense early on, no doubt. Tenants in need needed some protection — there was panic, it was a pandemic, it was something unprecedented,” Zaccaro said. “But now it’s critical that both tenants and landlords are protected and a blanket moratorium isn’t the answer. Essentially the moratorium confiscates property in order to house people who the state should be helping, while denying tax-paying property owners the right to due process.”
On Monday, tenant advocates and the Hudson Catskill Housing Coalition held a rally outside Assemblywoman Didi Barrett’s office, 420 Warren St., Hudson, to call on the state to extend the eviction moratorium and provide rent relief to tenants who were financially impacted by the pandemic.
Barrett, D-106, said in a statement Wednesday she was asking the state to release funds aimed at helping tenants experiencing hardships pay their rent.
“My priority is to deliver immediate, tangible assistance to our renters and small landlords across the state and I call upon the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to swiftly establish the framework needed to bring relief to our residents,” Barrett said. “We now have the funds — from both the state and federal government — and they should be disbursed. Our tenants, landlords and communities should not have to wait any longer.”
Michael Gattine-Suarez, managing director of the Hudson-Catskill Housing Coalition, said his organization continues to fight for housing justice.
“We are demanding the eviction moratorium be extended until the end of the pandemic and 180 days after,” Gattine-Suarez said.
The organization called on Barrett to fight for the extension, but is dissatisfied with her response, Gattine-Suarez said.
“While her colleagues continue to direct millions of dollars to NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority), our work in Hudson — attempting to renovate Bliss Towers and securing the future of the Hudson Housing Authority — continues to be ignored and unfunded,” he said. “We cannot just ignore this.”