Pro-tenant Lawmakers Criticized for Not Getting Rent Relief Out the Door Quicker
Shortly after the State Legislature voted in favor of extending the statewide eviction moratorium, RSA and other plaintiffs decided to take legal action.
On May 3rd, the State Legislature approved a measure that extended the eviction moratorium another four months through August 31, 2021. The bill was subsequently signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on May 5th. The next morning, RSA, along with a number of single-family homeowners and small building owners, filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in the Eastern District of New York that challenges the constitutionality of the moratorium extension.
The lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunctive relief enjoining the Chief Administrative Judge of the New York Courts, the sheriffs of New York City, Suffolk County and Dutchess County, the Commissioner of the New York City Department of Investigation, and the Director of the Bureau of Marshals, from implementing and enforcing the residential eviction moratorium provisions of the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (CEEFPA), and a declaration that the law is unconstitutional.
The lawsuit alleges that that CEFFPA violates building owners’ First Amendment rights because it requires them to distribute a hardship declaration to tenants and absorb associated distribution expenses that amounts to them speaking in support of the eviction moratorium and legal organizations that advocate for tenants. The court papers also state that the CEEFPA further violates building owners’ due process rights because of the law’s vagueness, which allows tenants to claim hardship without providing proof and can literally check off an “other circumstances” box that is completely undefined. Furthermore, owners cannot challenge the validity of a hardship declaration, which automatically stays and prevents all cases (pre- and post-pandemic) from being commenced in Housing Court.
By way of background, this latest lawsuit came on the heels of a case brought by some of the same plaintiffs challenging the prior eviction moratorium extension that was in place through the end of April. That suit was dismissed in early April on technical grounds and did not reach the merits of the constitutional claims. In light of the extension of the moratorium by another four months, as well as the State Legislature’s failure to roll out the new rent relief program in a timely fashion, RSA decided to join the legal challenge.
In the weeks leading up to the new lawsuit, RSA criticized the Legislature, not only for considering an extension of the moratorium, but because the extension was avoidable had the State acted quicker to open the application process for the federally-funded, $2.4 billion rent relief program for tenants who were financially-impacted by the pandemic (see page 1 of the May issue of the RSA Reporter). As of May 17th, New York State was the only state remaining in the country that at a minimum, had not started accepting applications for their statewide rent relief program.
Despite months of expecting the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) to independently implement the program well before the eviction moratorium expired in April, the Legislature waited for additional rent relief funding provided by the third federal stimulus package and decided to include the multi-billion dollar program in the State budget approved in early April. This ultimately delayed the implementation of the program even further.
During a press conference in early May, Governor Cuomo’s Administration announced that State is expecting to open the application process for the rent relief program by the end of May. In the event this timeline is correct, building owners should not expect funds from the program to be dispersed to them until at least the beginning of July.
As we went to press, we did not have any updates with regard to the rent relief program’s projected start date. We will provide further details in next month’s issue of the RSA Reporter, as well updates with regard to RSA’s legal challenge to the eviction moratorium extension.