WNY landlord and housing activist share viewpoints on NYS eviction moratorium

Western New York

(WIVB) — State lawmakers were called back to Albany for a rare special session, during summer recess, to address extending New York’s moratorium on evictions that expired Tuesday.

The New York State Senate and Assembly voted Wednesday evening to extend the eviction moratorium to mid-January. Governor Hochul plans to sign the bill Thursday.

New York’s eviction moratorium has been in place for nearly a year-and-a-half, in response to the COVID pandemic. Governor Hochul now wants more time to disperse nearly $3 billion in rental assistance, while Republican lawmakers are blaming the administration for failing to get the money out in a timely manner.

The moratorium on evictions means tenants who are behind on their rent don’t go to court and landlords say that is not good because housing court is where tenants can actually find help.

“They have moved them into social services programs, or into ERAP programs that exist now, and if we had that tool we would be way more successful at getting more people into the program, getting them paid, getting them caught up, and moving on,” said Jeff Williams, Apartments Niagara LLC.

Jeff Williams’ rental firm, Apartments Niagara, oversees about 700 apartments in Niagara and Chautauqua counties. Williams says, even though the moratorium is designed to protect tenants from eviction and landlords from foreclosure, rent is the main source of personal income for many smaller landlords.

“Smaller landlords are being bankrupted. If I had four units, and three of them were not paying rent, or two were not paying rent, I don’t know how I would survive,” added Williams.

Only a fraction of the nearly $3 billion in Emergency Rental Assistance, called ERAP, has gone out to tenants and landlords to pay their back rent, and one of Governor Hochul’s first items of business, when she took office, was getting the money out. But housing activists say that is not enough.

“It is horrible timing. On top of the variant, on top of us going into fall and then into winter, displacing people from their homes is especially bad timing in this pandemic,” Teresa Watson, PUSH Buffalo.

Williams points out, once a tenant’s application for assistance is accepted, they are protected from eviction and if they qualify, that protection is good for a year.

“The state believes that everybody who goes to court gets evicted, is wrong — it is not. In fact, it is a pretty small percentage because legal aid is there for the tenant, and they are there to negotiate with the landlord to figure out a way to keep them,” said Williams.

Extending the moratorium took on a new sense of urgency when the U.S. Supreme Court set aside a federal moratorium, last week, that would have been good until October 3.

Now that the moratorium is extended, a landlord group plans to sue.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here. To submit a Call 4 Action, click here.

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