Landlord advocates remained up in arms about another extension of a residential and commercial eviction moratorium since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.
The latest pause in evictions, which Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law Thursday, runs until Jan. 15 and allows landlords to contest a tenant’s claim of financial hardship that protected them from eviction.
The extension made changes to account for two Supreme Court decisions that blocked the state’s program and a federal moratorium.
Hochul convened a special session of the state Legislature Wednesday to vote on the extension.
Schenectady Landlords Influencing Change President Chris Morris said the group wasn’t surprised by the extension.
The local advocacy group was nevertheless disappointed, though heartened by the new governor’s pledge to bring efficiencies to the the New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program that opened June 1 with $2.7 billion to help tenants pay back rent.
Less than a tenth of that money had been dispensed as of Tuesday, according to state records.
“The new governor is saying she’s wanting it to be more expeditious, because it’s been a bogged down mess,” Morris said. “They’re trying to clean that up. It’s been three months in the works and a lot of people don’t have any money to fill in the holes.”
Statewide, the ERAP program had issued 23,128 payments to landlords totaling $300,473,917 as of Tuesday.
In Schenectady County, 228 payments totaling $1,089,157 in rental assistance had been dispensed, while 1,123 applications for rental arrearage and 331 applications for utility arrearage had been received as of Tuesday.
In Saratoga County, 157 payments totaling $802,365 had been dispensed, while 769 applications for rental arrearage and 270 applications for utility arrearage had been received as of Tuesday.
Rotterdam landlord Jodi Feulner wasn’t even aware of the extension of the moratorium when reached by a reporter Thursday.
“I have a court date on Sept. 7, and that’s useless, so my tenants get to keep stealing from me,” said Feulner, explaining her tenant was already behind $5,000 in rent before they completely stopped paying the $2,000 monthly rent in September 2020. Feulner said she’s now owed $27,000.
“That’s a beautiful thing to hear,” Feulner said sarcastically of the extension, adding her tenants aren’t communicating with her, and thus, haven’t helped with the ERAP application process that requires a tenant’s cooperation.
“I’m gonna lose everything,” Feulner said.
Statewide, it is estimated tenants owe a combined $2.2 billion in back-rent.
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said he agreed with the extension.
“No family should ever have to face the horrors of eviction, yet millions of Americans are still struggling to get by month-to-month and cannot afford rent,” Tonko said. “The decision by the Supreme Course to end the eviction moratorium put countless individuals at risk during this public health crisis that is worsening due to the Delta variant.
“Gov. Hochul made the right call to extend New York’s moratorium and protect those who continue to struggle through no fault of their own,” Tonko continued. “I’ll keep working to ensure that the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and Homeowner Assistance Fund – established by Congress to deliver billions to homeowners, tenants and landlords alike – reaches the Americans who need it most.”
But state Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R,C-Ballston, said she’s heard from countless mom-and-pop landlords who were struggling the past year and a half. She called the extension the wrong thing to do.
State Sen. Michelle Hinchey spoke favorably of the extension’s new protections for small landlords, including the ability to seek due process, a commitment to get ERAP money into their hands quickly, and the creation of a $250 million hardship fund that includes payments to landlords whose tenants have vacated their property or are unresponsive or uncooperative.
It recognizes small landlords are bearing an unfair burden and are suffering severe mental and financial hardships that threaten their livelihood, Hinchey said.
On the other hand, state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R, C-Glenville, said the latest eviction moratorium kicked the can down the road and gave no incentive for tenants to work with property owners to expedite rent payments.
“The ‘mom and pop’ small business owners who rent out housing are also in harm’s way economically as there’s a potential they’ll be out of business due to a lack of revenue,” Tedisco said. “If our small property owners go out of business, that negatively impacts the renters as well, as there won’t be enough affordable housing stock available.”
State Sen. Peter Oberacker, R, C-Schenevus, accused the state of “sitting” on the billions of dollars meant to help tenants and landlords.
“Instead of adopting a strategy to get those federal funds to people in need, something I have consistently advocated for, the misguided eviction moratorium was once again extended further drawing out an impending housing disaster,” Oberacker said.
In Schenectady, Mayor Gary McCarthy said of the extension: “Hopefully, this round now, with a new governor, is going to be a refocused effort to eliminate the inequities that are occurring and create what I’ll call general stability.” McCarthy said he found it interesting that the city’s property tax collections hadn’t been harmed by the moratorium.
“We’re running about 1% better than last year, and last year we were running about 1% better than the year before,” he said. “So, we’re not seeing the bottom line impact, where people are generally paying their taxes, even though, within that, there are a lot of hardship cases.”
Feulner, the Rotterdam landlord who said she’s been cheated by her tenants, accused New York leadership of ruining the state economy with the moratorium. She said she was forced to move in with her sister in Rotterdam for a time and has since left the state to be with her daughter, who recently had a baby in Florida.
“It’s really, really bad for me. They get to live for free,” she said of her tenants, “and I’m homeless.”
Feulner said she’s keeping her belongings in a rented storage unit. “I’m basically living out of my car.”