HALFMOON – Local landlord Joseph Tronco had a date for an eviction hearing set for March 2020.
A tenant in his four-bedroom house had stopped paying rent, Tronco said at Halfmoon Town Hall Wednesday during an event that called attention to the plight of struggling landlords during the pandemic.
But then the pandemic and eviction moratorium hit. The tenant told the court she had been affected financially by the pandemic.
Fast-forward more than a year and Tronco said he’s now owed 17 months’ rent, which he said he had lowered from $2,350 to $1,950 a month because of his tenant’s financial hardships.
Making matters worse, the landlord of 35 years said he and the tenant are no longer speaking. The property’s water bill has grown “out of control.”
Tronco, who said the tenant has countered with a harassment claim, said he showed up at his rental property one day and a man he didn’t recognize asked what he was doing there.
“What am I doing here?” he told a reporter, incredulous.
Tronco’s plight has drawn the attention of two Republican state legislators who advocate for landlords who are suffering from what they said were the “serious unintended consequences” of the eviction moratorium.
Sens. Daphne Jordan, R-Halfmoon, and Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, expressed concerns about the $2.7 billion federal relief program that intends to help income-eligible tenants who fell behind on rent because of the impact of the pandemic.
Tedisco said bureaucracy prevented the money from getting out fast enough to tenants and landlords.
Jordan questioned whether small landlords would ever be repaid for lost rental income during the pandemic.
She said the state and federal government continue to kick the can – unpaid rent – down the road.
The application process for the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) that is administered by the state began June 1.
But Jordan said it’s delivered almost no assistance to struggling landlords and small businesses.
Jordan wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this month urging his administration to take immediate action to address what she said were significant and systemic shortcomings with the program.
The rental assistance program requires active tenant cooperation for the landlord to receive money he’s rightfully owed, Jordan said.
The process requires documents from both entities.
Landlord-tenant relations can be strained, as in Tronco’s case, and at times tenants who are in arrears have already moved out and didn’t leave contact information, Jordan said.
Secondly, ERAP targets low-income tenants, excluding many landlords, Jordan said. The fund provides relief to tenants whose incomes are at or below 80% of the area median income, and tenants may find out during the application process that they don’t qualify, Jordan said.
Also, the relief is for up to 12 months, with the potential for an additional three months. Landlords like Tronco who are owed for the entirety of the pandemic can’t be repaid in full, Jordan said.
Another hindrance to landlords’ inability to recoup their total losses is that ERAP doesn’t include late fees, Jordan said.
The end result is that landlords are essentially denied the financial relief they deserve and were promised by the state, Jordan said.
To potentially bring help to small landlords, Tedisco co-authored a Senate bill that would establish a rental assistance loan-to-grant program.
It would be funded with money from ERAP, and $100 million from the federal CARES Act, according to bill language.
Tedisco said he’s in favor of protection for tenants who experienced actual financial or health hardships because of the pandemic.
But Tedisco said he’s talked to landlords who have told him that their tenants have worked the entire year and “haven’t missed a beat.” Some are even essential workers, he said.
Tedisco went on to say that if small landlords can’t exist anymore and make a profit, the state would continue to have population loss. The state lost a congressional seat because its growth rate the last decade was lower than the national gain of 7.4 percent.
Chris Morris, director of Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change, said the Tenant Protection Act of 2019 changed landlords’ worlds by swaying the balance of power decidedly toward tenants.
The eviction moratorium during the pandemic has only made it worse, Morris said.
Morris began to recite names of member landlords who she said were owed tens of thousands of dollars. One member is trying to evict four people at the same time, she said.
Morris said she’s been told that in Schenectady County, approximately 66 applications for ERAP funding had been received as of the first month of the process.
Morris was also critical of the ERAP process. She said it put landlords who aren’t technologically savvy at a disadvantage, and it lacked for clarity.
“If you don’t know if you’re going to get anything – period,” and if you don’t know when you might get something, how can you plan at all?”
In spite of the moratorium, courts are still holding eviction hearings on a limited basis. The moratorium doesn’t provide blanket coverage for tenants, an official in Schenectady City Court said.
Eviction lawyer Paul DeLorenzo of Schenectady said his firm recently won two eviction hearings for clients.
One concerned a tenant in Rotterdam who was “misbehaving” and not abiding by the lease terms, making conditions unsafe and unenjoyable for other tenants, DeLorenzo said.
This is an exception under the eviction moratorium guidelines, he said.