New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks during a...

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks during a news briefing at the state Capitol in Albany in June 2020. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Senate and Assembly approved legislation Monday to extend New York’s pandemic-driven moratorium on tenant evictions to Aug. 31.

Voting largely on party lines, the Democratic-controlled legislature lengthened the moratorium by four months. The new deadline now goes beyond a federal moratorium, which runs to June 30.

The extra time is needed, Democrats argued, because of the exceedingly slow pace of distributing federal and state rent relief checks to tenants and landlords. Very little of New York’s $2.4 billion in state aid and $600 million in federal aid has gone out the door, legislators said.

Also, the extension through August now corresponds with the 15 months’ worth of assistance authorized in the rent relief programs.

"While we can see the light at the end of the tunnel of the global health crisis of the last year, the economic impacts on our families and small businesses have not diminished," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said. "Extending these moratoriums will give people the time they need to recover financially, keep families in their homes and keep businesses' doors open."

The Assembly approved the extension, 97-51; the Senate, 42-21. All Republicans opposed the bill, along with nine Democrats in the two houses combined.

The legislation builds on a moratorium first enacted in an executive order by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year. In December, the Legislature and the governor codified the order into state law and extended it to May 1. The governor’s office didn’t immediately comment Monday on the extension.

Republicans said the slow pace of doling out aid was one reason to oppose any more extensions.

"We have $2.4 billion sitting there and nothing’s been done," Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said during the Senate debate, referring to state funding.

"This unsustainable, shortsighted policy will lead to a drastic decline in affordable housing options as landlords face foreclosure or stop renting altogether," Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay (R-Pulaski) said. "We are past the initial period of economic hardship that warranted the need for this moratorium. At this stage, allowing tenants to simply ignore rent for another four months will do more harm than good to every part of the housing sector."

Under the moratorium, tenants are able to submit forms attesting they are unable to pay rent because of a financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — because of unemployment, lost income or increased expenses.

Democrats said the government aid will eventually reach landlords.

"The reality is this is a rent subsidy going directly to landlords," Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) said.

Legislators also approved a related bill to allow small businesses to also qualify for financial hardship and avoid evictions through Aug. 31. Further, in extending the commercial eviction moratorium, lawmakers broadened the definition of "small business" in terms of qualifying. Rather than up to 50 employees, companies with up to 100 can participate. Further, companies with up to 500 employees can participate if they were shut down by a state directive for two or more weeks between May 15, 2020, and May 1, 2021.

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