Albany Democrats have reached an agreement in principle on extending the statewide eviction moratorium while increasing funding for relief programs for tenants and landlords. Negotiations between state lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul appeared to go down to the wire, with legislative language only being introduced after the state Senate and Assembly began an extraordinary special session called by the governor. The agreed-upon legislative language would extend the eviction moratorium until Jan. 15, 2022, add hundreds of millions of dollars to housing programs and give landlords a few new ways to remove troublesome tenants in some circumstances.
Legislators are expected to debate the two bills – one enacting the moratorium and changes to housing relief programs while another would allocate additional funding – past publication time, but they appear likely to pass them. Lawmakers will also vote Wednesday on two gubernatorial appointments affecting the state’s recreational marijuana industry as well as proposed changes to the state’s open meetings law to allow localities to hold meetings completely remotely following the expiration of the public health emergency. Housing issues, however, are undoubtedly the biggest issue in this extraordinary session that serves as an early test for the new governor.
Hochul appeared to be central to getting the moratorium extended following weeks of efforts by progressive lawmakers and activists arguing that a moratorium on evictions would slow the spread of the coronavirus while helping people dealing with economic hardships caused by the pandemic. “It’s way, way, way better than I was expecting and way, way, way better than we would have gotten if we hadn’t had a little regime change a couple weeks ago,” Cea Weaver, campaign coordinator of the tenant advocacy group Housing Justice for All, said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “I don't know that (Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins), if they hadn’t had a supportive governor, would have been like, yeah, we’re going to extend it.” The legislative leaders can reconvene their chambers whenever they want, but ultimately followed Hochul’s lead.
The rights of landlords was a critical part of any final deal because of a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that nullified a previous iteration of the eviction moratorium that allowed tenants to self-certify their need for rental assistance. Landlords now have a means of challenging that, which could help the new eviction moratorium survive future legal challenges. A provision in the latest legislative language also would allow landlords to begin proceedings to evict tenants before and after they receive any aid if the landlord can show a court they are a nuisance or damaging the property.
While landlords gained some new leverage in housing court, tenants stand to gain as well. An additional $250 million will be added to the state’s rent relief program that initially received $2.35 billion. Eligibility standards would also be loosened to allow more people with higher incomes to apply for a hardship fund that is getting an additional $150 million on top of the $100 million already appropriated. Plus, there is $25 million in new funding to provide legal services for tenants facing eviction.
Extending the moratorium through the state legislative process clarifies a lot about the eviction process after months of uncertainty about its length and constitutionality. This was especially the case for landlords who wanted to get rid of tenants they believed were abusing protections first implemented in the spring of 2020 as the first wave of COVID-19 cases swept across the state, according to Leslie Silva, a partner at the law firm Tully Rinckey. “It was very hard to advise their clients how to get out of these situations,” she said in an interview. “But now, this will hopefully help.”