Tenants Face Eviction Threat Amid Loss of Income From Pandemic

May 12, 2020

Tenant advocates say they are hearing from a growing number of clients whose landlords are demanding payment of rent and refusing to work with them by deferring the debt. Frustrated and impatient landlords are threatening to kick them out or take other actions, despite the statewide moratorium on evictions.

Many of the affected tenants were current on their payments until they lost their jobs after Cuomo halted nonessential work to stop the spread of Covid-19. Landlords say the rent is still owed, and their bills are mounting. And there is little incentive and no requirement for them to help tenants. 

Some landlords are going further to force tenants out, by changing locks, cutting off utility service, or failing to make critical repairs. Such "self-help" methods are illegal, however, and now even carry strengthened penalties under new state law last June. 

"Anyone who’s been a landlord for a while knows they’re not appropriate. You don’t shut the furnace off on a family with young children, or turn off the lights. Landlords are frustrated by their inability to access the courts," said Grace Andriette, deputy director of Neighborhood Legal Services.

Experts on both sides agree that there's almost no way to solve the renter’s crisis without a comprehensive solution that addresses the needs of tenants and landlords. "Rent forgiveness needs to come with a mortgage component. You can't analyze one without the other," Katie Dibble, staff attorney at the Erie County Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Project.

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