Lawmakers waiting to debate eviction ban

Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, a member of the Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee, and Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, speak out against extending the eviction moratorium in the Capitol on Wednesday hours before lawmakers started debate. Kate Lisa/Johnson Newspaper Corp.

ALBANY — Lawmakers were met with a familiar legislative game of hurry up and wait for Wednesday’s extraordinary session after Gov. Kathy Hochul called them to return to extend the state’s temporary ban on evictions and foreclosures through early next year.

Representatives started hours of questioning and debate by mid-afternoon to review two bills to extend the state’s eviction moratorium, barring residential and commercial tenants who could not pay rent due to financial hardships caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, through Jan. 15, 2022.

Senators were confident they would extend the moratorium protecting New Yorkers from evictions and residential foreclosures, including for small businesses, as the state has been slow to administer $2.7 billion in relief payments from the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

“In light of the Supreme Court’s ruling to strike down the federal eviction moratorium, the Senate majority is taking action to adjust and extend the state’s eviction moratorium to ensure that thousands of New Yorkers are protected from losing their homes and at the same time helping small landlords,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement Wednesday. “The Senate Democratic majority will continue to fight to keep people in their homes and ensure that every individual who qualifies for these protections receives them. New York State’s government must work effectively to address the needs of New Yorkers.”

Session was slated to begin at noon. The bill was not dropped for lawmakers to review until nearly 2 p.m.

The Senate gaveled in on time, but immediately sent Democrats in the majority immediately to private conference.

The Assembly majority was not expected to conference before debating bills in committee.

Lawmakers will also temporarily amend the Open Meetings Law to allow officials to attend and vote at meetings remotely until Jan. 15, and vote to appoint the chair and executive director to the state’s Cannabis Control Board to jump-start the recreational marijuana industry since its legalization this spring.

The ERAP’s evictions protections will be amended to provide landlords with a path to start eviction proceedings against a tenant who is a nuisance or inflicted substantial damage to a property, and create a due process mechanism for landlords to challenge a tenant’s declaration of financial hardships — directing judges to require residential tenants to apply for the program if their claim is valid.

The state Office of Court Administration will be authorized to access ERAP applications that have limited information, giving the courts the power to separately decide about individual eviction proceedings.

The state will increase its $100 million for ERAP in the 2021-22 budget to $250 million with a combination of additional federal monies and reallocations of other state funds for tenants who make an income between 80% and 120% the federally set area median income, landlords whose tenants vacated their property without paying rent and landlords whose tenants have not responded to their attempts to make contact.

The state will provide new $25 million appropriation to fund legal services for tenants facing evictions, under the measure.

The program will also be expanded to residents of localities that opted out of participating in the ERAP and administering their own program, such as the city of Rochester.

Senate and Assembly Republicans held a joint press conference at noon to blast their colleagues for extending the eviction moratorium.

“For months, my Republican colleagues and I have pushed for our Democratic colleagues to deliver much-needed relief to struggling New York tenants and landlords,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. For months, they have ignored our calls, as well as everyone else who isn’t a radical ‘cancel rent’ activist. Their unlawful eviction moratorium, being continued today, defies all common-sense if the true goal is to protect renters, small business owners, and stabilize the housing market.”

The Senate started voting and debate at about 4:45 p.m. The Assembly was expected to convene in the early evening, with deliberations continuing through the night.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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