A federal order limiting evictions may bolster Long Island renters, although how much protection government measures provide will likely play out in court, according to a nonprofit that offers free legal representation for those in need.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Acting Chief of Staff Nina Witkofsky issued an order Tuesday that shields struggling tenants from eviction until the end of 2020.
The federal measure provides a more concrete protection period than the New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act, according to Vivian Storm, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit Nassau Suffolk Law Services. Under the state law, judges may determine tenants suffered economically because of COVID-19, and therefore, cannot be evicted for missing rent during the emergency. Tenants are ultimately responsible for accrued rent, under both measures.
The state court system previously announced no warrants of eviction will be issued until Oct. 1. Storm said lawyers are waiting to see how judges handle cases related to COVID-19. She noted that many Long Islanders' leases would expire sometime between when protections started in March and when they are slated to expire in 2021. If these households do not relocate, they could be subject to a holdover case accusing them of not vacating the home when their lease ended.
"The fight will become whether holdover proceedings that seem to be prompted by nonpayment of rent should be, really, treated as nonpayment proceedings," Storm said. "That’s going to be an issue that the courts will ultimately have to resolve.”
Witkofsky said the order became necessary as federal, state and local eviction moratoriums sunset, given that more people moving into homeless shelters or crowded settings could hasten the spread of COVID-19.
"Eviction moratoria facilitate self-isolation by people who become ill or who are at risk for severe illness from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition," Witkofsky's order said.
The order applies to individuals earning up to $99,000, or up to $198,000 for joint filers — in 2020. To be eligible, tenants must have struggled to pay rent due to a significant loss of income or extraordinary medical expenses; have attempted to obtain all available government assistance; and have paid as much of their rent as possible. These tenants should fill out a declaration form and give it to their landlord, the order said.
But the CDC moratorium leaves landlords in a difficult position, said Kyle Strober, executive director of the Association for a Better Long Island, a business group that includes major residential landlords.
“This is the definition of kicking the can down the road," Strober said. "The only real solution is a robust renters’ subsidy program and property owner tax relief."