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Federal District Court Holds Hearing on Eviction Moratorium Challenge

RSA & Plaintiffs Filed Motion for a Stay of Latest Extension

After the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied RSA’s motion for a stay of the latest eviction moratorium law in October, RSA, along with four small property owners, filed an amended petition in Federal District Court challenging the moratorium, along with a motion seeking a stay of the most recent moratorium extension.

On November 8th, the Federal District Court held a hearing on the motion, where Judge Gary Brown heard from both sides on the legality and impact of the eviction moratorium. The plaintiffs put on four witnesses, all small property owners who had eviction proceedings pending before the pandemic and who have been unable to proceed in Housing Court due to the moratorium.

One of the owners, Pantelis Chrysafis, who owns a one-family home in Garden City where the tenants have failed to pay over $100,000 in rent, testified that as a result of the eviction moratorium, he has been living in his parents’ basement while his wife and child live elsewhere since they have nowhere to live until they are able to get possession of their house from court. Another owner, Mudan Shi, testified with the help of a Mandarin interpreter that her tenants have failed to pay rent and appear to be selling drugs out of the apartment. However, none of the neighbors are willing to testify, barring her from being able to proceed with her Housing Court case. Another owner, Brandie LaCasse, a retired and disabled United States Air Force veteran, testified that as a result of the eviction moratorium, she has been unable to move back into her property, where the tenants have failed to pay rent since the start of the pandemic and as a result, she and her daughter have been effectively homeless while the moratorium continues.

Each one of these small property owners received a hardship declaration from their tenants, barring them from continuing with any case against their tenant and barring them from obtaining possession of their property. They all also testified that they were unable to swear under the penalty of perjury that their tenants were not suffering from financial or COVID-related hardship, because only their tenants would have information and knowledge as to their own circumstances. Therefore, the new moratorium law does not provide an effective means for owners to challenge tenant declarations.

The State put forth two witnesses, both court employees who testified about case volume and specifically the volume of hardship declarations that have been challenged thus far since the new moratorium law went into effect on September 1st. According to the State’s own data offered at the hearing, a total of 485 owners have submitted affidavits contesting tenant hardship declarations in the entire state as of October 20th, of which a total of 44 have been granted. Our attorneys correctly pointed out the fact that the State’s own data indicated that of the 150,000+ cases that are currently pending in Housing Court, only 0.05% of those cases had an owner contest the tenant hardship, clear proof that most owners cannot swear to the nonexistence of their tenants’ hardship. This shifting of the burden of proof, from tenants proving the existence of a tenant’s hardship to owners providing the nonexistence of a tenant’s hardship, has continued to render the moratorium law unconstitutional.

RSA anticipates that the Federal District Court will issue a ruling on our motion for an injunction sooner rather than later and we will provide an update on any such decision, as well as any subsequent appellate action we may take, as it becomes available. It is possible that this issue of the RSA Reporter went to press ahead of that decision. As a result, an update on any ruling will be provided via email blast. 

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25 Dec 2021 00:00
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