Moratorium brings landlord-tenant tensions

By CLOEY CALLAHAN
Posted 2/17/21

Just before the first eviction moratorium was scheduled to expire, Governor Andrew Cuomo placed an additional COVID-related residential eviction moratorium for some of 2021. The legislation prevents …

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Moratorium brings landlord-tenant tensions

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Just before the first eviction moratorium was scheduled to expire, Governor Andrew Cuomo placed an additional COVID-related residential eviction moratorium for some of 2021. The legislation prevents residential evictions, foreclosure proceedings, credit discriminitation and negative credit reporting related to the pandemic.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we asked New Yorkers to protect each other by staying at home. As we fight our way through the marathon this pandemic has become, we need to make sure New Yorkers still have homes to provide that protection,” Governor Cuomo said in a late December press release. “This law adds to previous executive orders by protecting the needy and vulnerable who, through no fault of their own, face eviction during an incredibly difficult period for New York. The more support we provide for tenants, mortgagors and seniors, the easier it will be for them to get back on their feet when the pandemic ends.”

The eviction moratorium lasts until May 1 for tenants who have “endured COVID-related hardship.” To utilize the eviction freeze, tenants are required to submit a hardship declaration or a document explaining the source of the hardship to prevent evictions.

Despite the comforting legislation for tenants, the eviction moratorium leaves some landlords feeling like they are in a squeeze.

Larry Moore, 80, owns four properties in the City and Town of Newburgh. He said some of his tenants quit paying all together when the eviction moratorium was put in place in March 2020. Despite some of his tenants not paying rent, he continues to have to make updates in the buildings when necessary.

“That’s the law, and it’s not an unreasonable law, except for the fact people aren’t paying rent,” said Moore.

He offered flexible payment plans for his tenants, however no one took him up on the offer.

“These people are not even willing to work with the landlord,” said Moore.

Thankfully, Moore has his mortgage paid and doesn’t have to rely on income from monthly rents. However, he reports that, as of this week, he is owed over $25,000 in rent. With the Orange County Courts being closed, there is not much he can do about the situation.

“The court system is tenant-favored and not for landlords,” said Moore, who has two pending evictions so that when the courts open the case can be presented.

“Most of these people will disappear, however, I am perfectly willing to hire a detective to chase them down,” said Moore who believes it is worth it to do so when “you have someone who owes you $12,000.”

During all of this, he has continued to pay taxes on each property. In one house, he had to pay $2,500 to the City of Newburgh, $2,900 for the school tax, as well as garbage and water costs.

In Moore’s opinion, he believes that some of his tenant’s unemployment money could have been put towards rent or that people’s money could have been redistributed.

“They don’t know how to manage their money and budget,” said Moore bluntly. “There needs to be an organization that can help these people. The debts from these rentals are going to follow them for a long time.”

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley has been actively encouraging those possibly facing eviction at the end of the moratorium to reach out for legal assistance now.

“Individuals should contact us early so we can identify where they need help,” said Maureen Fox from Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. “In some cases we have rental arrears, which will help them pay their back rent.”

“Because they haven’t gotten an eviction notice, people aren’t doing anything about it,” said Fox. “We are trying to get them to come early to get advice on what to do. We’re very concerned that once the moratorium is lifted, there will be this huge influx of people coming to us with 18 months worth of issues and we won’t be able to handle it.”

“They don’t understand in the long term could really hurt them,” said Moore. “They read ‘eviction moratorium’ and think oh they can’t throw me out. Well I have some bad news for you, when the courts open they can.”

The same legislation also says that homeowners and small landlords who own 10 or fewer residential dwellings can file hardship declarations themselves with their mortgage lender, other foreclosing party or a court that would prevent a foreclosure.

Moore said at this time he isn’t planning on submitting a hardship declaration for himself or selling his properties.

The legislation passed just before the new year also states that the landlords can continue to evict tenants that are “creating safety or health hazards for other tenants, and those tenants who do not submit hardship declarations.” However, with the courts closed here, it doesn’t mean much.

“Why should I be stuck with the expenses of owning a house when the renters are receiving government money but don’t use it to pay the rent?,” asked Moore in a Facebook comment.

Similar to Moore, small Newburgh landlord Patrick Christ has dealt with lack of payment from his tenants in the two-family townhouse he owns. For the beginning of the pandemic, Christ was living in the same building with one tenant. He said things were going well and they continued to pay rent. However, early summer things changed.

“For some time, I said just let me know,” said Christ to his tenant. “I believe in you and I trust you.”

What started as I’ll pay you later turned into no payments at all. For some time, Christ put his trust into the tenant and regularly asked for them to communicate with him and create a payment plan – one where he was willing to cut rent almost in half to make it work. Unlike Moore, Christ does have to pay a mortgage, which he is able to do because he has another job. However, it still puts him in a pinch.

“I’d rather keep the apartment filled with someone from the neighborhood – she grew up in Newburgh around this neighborhood,” said Christ.

In the fall, he had to move out of the upstairs and bring a new tenant into the house for more income. The second tenant pays at a reduced rate. Christ has been trying to have the original tenant, who stopped paying rent completely for months now, evicted.

“They have a full time job and basically said to me they don’t have to pay because of COVID,” said Christ. “I told them that’s incorrect. Technically, the tenant should be trying to pay even if it’s just a little bit. I am happy to accept $800 a month.”

While the tenant who is paying no rent has a lease coming to an end, Christ fears that they’ll refuse to leave. He said of right now, the tenant owes $13,000 in rent and more in damages to the apartment that they made.

“It would be one thing if they didn’t have a job, it would be another thing if they were in communication with me,” said Christ.

“They’re mad at me because they think I’m rich,” said Christ. “I am not rich. I own a small business with me and one employee – that’s it. I’m trying my hardest in this to make it for myself and provide a place for someone who grew up in the neighborhood. It’s a family and they needed someone to trust them as tenants and I fell for it. I feel like they’re taking full advantage of this situation, unrightfully so, in my opinion.”

No one is necessarily in a good position with the pandemic. While the landlords might need their own income to continue to uphold these buildings, renters are facing a lack of income themselves.

New York State’s website reads, “while there is a moratorium on evictions, a tenant’s obligation to pay rent and an owner’s obligation to provide essential services continues.” Additionally, there is some relief for homeowners and landlords. New York State and the federal government passed laws to provide relief to homeowners who are unable to pay their mortgage due to COVID-19 and need a forbearance, which Christ said he is actively looking into at this point. There is also a moratorium on utility and municipal shut-offs which will ensure that everyone will have heat and electricity.

Other help for landlords included the New York Forward Loan Fund which is aimed at supporting small landlords along with other small businesses. The loans are targeted to owners of 50 units or less and will prioritize loans for landlords whose properties are in low and moderate income census tracts or who serve low to moderate income tenants.

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