HUDSON — New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday provided direction for law enforcement and departments on unlawful evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic and for the future.
Columbia County Fair Housing Department Director Bill Fisher joined the Common Council’s informal meeting Monday to clarify the process for tenants.
Second Ward Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga and 1st Ward Alderwoman Rebecca Wolff received complaints about illegal evictions in Hudson.
“There should be no evictions taking place until at least June 20,” Fisher said. “I know that on May 7, the governor put in place an extension to Aug. 20, but there is a caveat: The main thing is that if anyone comes to evict anyone, they should immediately call law enforcement.”
The caveat Fisher referenced is that the extension of the eviction moratorium to Aug. 20 will benefit people who have a demonstrated financial hardship because of COVID-19 or are on unemployment at the time.
Fisher said the Bureau of Consumer Frauds & Protection at the Attorney General’s Office is investigating reports of unlawful evictions.
“They should be called if a tenant receives any kind of notice,” Fisher said, later adding that if a senior is involved, the Office for the Aging should also be contacted.
Since rent has not been canceled and the full amount will be due when the moratorium expires, Fisher recommended tenants communicate with their landlords and pay what they can now, including tenants on unemployment.
“I think the landlords would feel that something is better than nothing, and of course that will reduce the amount that will be owed at the end of the moratorium,” Fisher said.
The Common Council introduced a resolution Monday at the informal meeting to memorialize a request for landlords to practice rent flexibility and for banks to offer deferment plans on mortgage loans in response to COVID-19.
The resolution, put forward by the Housing and Transportation Committee, also requests local landlords consider a rent freeze on increases planned for the immediate future, waive late fees and offer flexibility on rent payments. The resolution will be voted on at the May 19 formal meeting.
New York courts are not accepting any new eviction or foreclosure cases.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered on March 20 a 90-day moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants. While eviction proceedings and pending evictions are suspended, rental payments have not been waived.
Cuomo also ordered a 90-day mortgage relief period for borrowers impacted by the crisis, meaning some landlords. But the owner’s obligation to provide essential services such as heat, water and electricity has not been waived.
The practices were established by New York’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019.
With rising concerns that some landlords may attempt to evict tenants in the absence of a court order, James shared clear guidance with agencies to protect tenants.
The HSTPA includes a new provision that makes it a class A misdemeanor to evict occupants from their home without a court order or fail to restore an occupant who was evicted without a court order.
HSTPA empowers law enforcement to intervene when unlawful evictions are taking place, which provides a welcome and timely additional layer of protection for tenants as they grapple with the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 public-health crisis, according to James.
“As the coronavirus rages on, many individuals are experiencing unprecedented financial instability, and it is important for everyone to understand the protections in place to guard against unlawful evictions at such a vulnerable time,” James said. “I will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure that no New Yorker is illegally removed from their home during this pandemic.”
James highlighted the following directions for New York law enforcement responding to unlawful evictions: It is an unlawful eviction if threatening or using force; interrupting or discontinuing essential services; removing the occupant’s possessions from the dwelling unit; removing the door at the entrance to the dwelling unit; rendering the lock on the entrance door inoperable; changing the lock on an entrance door without supplying the occupant with a key; or any other action intended to prevent the occupant from the lawful occupancy of the unit, which interferes or intends to interfere with the occupant’s use and occupancy of the dwelling unit, or induces the occupant to vacate.
James’ office has issued guidance for tenants relating to COVID-19.
The law protects anyone who occupies an apartment, room or bed through a written or oral lease, or who has occupied the unit for at least 30 days prior to the unlawful eviction.
This includes tenants whose leases have expired, and family members, roommates or other licensees who have been in the unit for at least 30 days.
If a tenant is unlawfully evicted, the owner must restore them into the same or a similar unit within the dwelling.
The Office of the Attorney General has sent cease-and-desist letters to landlords around the state who unlawfully threaten tenants with eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abby Hoover is a reporter for Columbia-Greene Media. Contact her at email@example.com.