The New York State Legislature, in what many feel is an effort to portray tenants as the downtrodden victims of their landlords and to demonize landlords as the oppressors of their tenants, passed the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 (L 2020, ch 381). Governor Cuomo signed this piece of legislation into law on December 28, 2020. In the words of the New York State Senate, “[t]his legislation is the strongest bill in the nation to block eviction proceedings from going forward . . .”
The Act requires all landlords to provide their tenants with a notice and a hardship declaration form concerning COVID-19 eviction protection, and puts all pending and new eviction proceedings on hold for sixty days to allow tenants the time necessary to complete the form and submit it either to their landlord or to the court. The notice takes a person of average intelligence about one minute (not sixty days) to read; and the form consists of only two boxes to be checked by the tenant. Box “A” is to be checked if the tenant claims to be experiencing a financial hardship and cannot move as a result; box “B” is to be checked if the tenant claims that moving would pose a health risk because the tenant or someone in the tenant’s household has an increased risk of illness or death from COVID-19. The form must be provided to the tenant both in English and in the tenant’s primary language, if other than English.
The tenant can then sign, date, and print his or her name on the form and return it either to the landlord, who must also provide the tenant with a mailing address and an email address for that purpose, or to the court. Once a tenant completes this form and submits it, he or she cannot be evicted until after May 1, 2021. The new legislation does not provide a mechanism for a landlord to challenge the truth of a tenant’s hardship claims.
All landlords seeking to evict their tenants must, in addition to all other required paperwork, submit to the court an affidavit of service, under penalty of perjury (which the tenant is not required to do with respect to the hardship declaration form), demonstrating the manner in which the form was served on the tenant. The affidavit must also attest to whether the landlord received a completed form back from the tenant.
Even if the tenant decides to ignore the notice and declaration form and to also ignore all notices of the eviction proceeding and simply default in the action by not appearing in court, the court cannot grant a default judgment until after May 1, 2021. And then, a default judgment can only be granted after a hearing has been held to determine the status of the matter.
So, how can landlords get any relief from the State’s continued attacks on their rights? Governor Cuomo is up for reelection on November 8, 2022. Landlords can express their displeasure at their polling places then, and can do the same when their elected state legislators come up for reelection. To coin a phrase, “your vote is your voice.” In the meantime, landlords can only try their best to cope with this injustice.