In December 2020, New York State enacted the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020. Among other things, that law stopped most pending eviction cases through February 26th and established a procedure for stopping such cases, and new cases commenced after the law was enacted, through at least May 1st. The law does not apply to cases in which the landlord alleges certain nuisance conduct.
To stop an eviction case through at least May 1st, a tenant must fill out a form called a “Tenant’s Declaration of Hardship During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” If a tenant has not already received a Hardship Declaration from the landlord or from the Housing Court, they can obtain one by visiting the New York State Office of Court Administration website at www.nycourts.gov/eefpa/. The declaration is available in many languages.
Tenants may also fill out a Hardship Declaration online at EVICTIONFREENYC.ORG.
Completed Hardship Declarations may be mailed to the landlord, the landlord’s attorney, or to the Housing Court. If there is a pending court case, Queens tenants may email them to QueensHardshipDeclaration@nycourts.gov; Brooklyn tenants may email them to KingsHardshipDedclaration@nycourts.gov.
Catholic Migration Services represents low-income New Yorkers living in Queens free of charge. If you have questions about how to file a Hardship Declaration or whether you should file one, please call Catholic Migration Services at (347) 472-3500, extension 1027.
Catholic Migration Services filed two cases in Queens County Supreme Court on behalf of tenants who allege that their landlord charged them more than the legally permissible rent for many years. Along with pro bono counsel from Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett LLP, we recently obtained a favorable ruling from an appellate court that will permit our clients’ claims to proceed.
In 2015, Beatriz came to Catholic Migration Services seeking one-on-one consultation because she believed that her rent was too high. After learning about her housing concerns, the Catholic Migration Services Tenant Advocacy Program agreed to represent her and her son with the expertise of Senior Staff Attorney, Mariam Magar.
In the course of researching the records for the apartment maintained by the Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), Mariam discovered that a rent reduction order was issued by DHCR in 1987 (and effective May 1986) had remained in effect through September 2015. This meant that Beatriz and Angel should have been paying only $348.04 per month, an overcharge of almost $1,300 per month, until then.
In February 2016 Mariam filed overcharge cases for both Beatriz and Angel in Queens County Supreme Court, asserting that they were overcharged because (1) the rent in their 2006 vacancy lease, which was more than double the rent paid by the prior tenant, was excessive, and (2) the 1987 DHCR rent reduction order limited their rent to $348.04 per month through September 2015. After filing the cases, Mariam learned about a second rent reduction order that was still in effect.
Initially, the judges in each of the two cases dismissed them, finding that the tenants had filed them too late, but with the help of pro bono counsel from the law firm of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett LLP, we appealed to the Appellate Division, Second Department, and in June 2020, the Court issued orders reversing the two Supreme Court decisions, holding that the tenants had not filed their cases too late.
As of July 2020, the two cases are now headed back to the Supreme Court, where the tenants may once again pursue their overcharge claims with continued representation from Catholic Migration Services and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Beatriz and her son Angel, this will enable mother and son to remain in their long-time home for years to come.
As hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lose their jobs or part of their income due to the pandemic, Catholic Migration Services is assisting tenants who are thinking of going on a “rent strike” – refusing to pay rent. As of May 1st, more than 50 buildings with 1,000 tenants are on rent strike — the largest rent strike in nearly 100 years. These tenants are asking the government of New York State to cancel rent for those who cannot pay, cancel mortgages for small landlords, and cancel utility payments, in order to prevent mass displacement and evictions once New York’s eviction moratorium is lifted. In some cases, tenants may also be demanding that their landlords make urgently needed repairs and maintain their buildings adequately to prevent the spread of the virus.
In a recent article in the Wired, Agustin Pérez, a tenant leader working with Catholic Migration Services shares his experience after recently losing his job due to the COVID-19 pandemic and with two young children and a wife on maternity leave, he is doing everything he can to keep his family healthy and safe.
To learn more about the history and purpose of rent strikes, and what you can do as a tenant, visit www.rightotcounselnyc.org
and see images from the @RTCNYC @HOUSINGFORALLNY
*Catholic Migration Services advises any tenant considering a rent strike to try to speak with an attorney before striking. If you would like help organizing a rent strike in your building, contact Amy Collado at (347) 472-3500, extension 1021. You may obtain free legal advice about going on rent strike by calling Andrew Lehrer at (347) 472-3500, extension 1026.
On June 15th Catholic Migration Services was part of the public hearing that the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB) was hosting. Tenant members from different neighborhoods including Woodside, Sunnyside, Jackson Heights and Elmhurst attended the hearing and testified for a much needed Rent Roll Back. Tenants spoke about how much of a burden rent has become and how they would have to leave their apartments and NYC in general if another increase was implemented. The tenants wore white T-shirts which they made colorful by writing messages and drawing images of how much of their income is spent on rent. Their testimonies included some data, but mainly their own stories which made them very powerful. Other groups that attended the RGB hearing were Minkwon, Centro Hispano Cuzcatlan, Make the Road NY and Chhaya.
On Wednesday, April 29th tenants and community groups rallied together to advocate for a rent roll-back for rent stabilized apartments by the New York City Rent Guidelines Board (RGB). CMS’ ITAP and BHIP, CASA, Los Sures, RENA and many other tenant advocacy organizations were present to show their support of a rent roll-back. Community members marched from Herald Square to The CUNY Graduate Center where the RGB preliminary vote was held. New York City Council Members Corey Johnson, Ben Kallos, and Jumaane Williams spoke at a press conference outside of The CUNY Graduate Center. They discussed the hardships tenants are facing with the high cost of rent and why they support a rent roll-back.
After the press conference community members attended the preliminary vote held by the RGB. Both, RGB members representing the landlords and members representing tenants made proposals for this year’s increase, but it was the Chair, Rachel D. Godsil’s proposal, that got approved. Now the Rent Guidelines Board will only take into account the following range for the final vote. 0 to 2% increase for One-year leases and 0.5 to 3.5% increase for Two-year leases.
Public hearings will now be held in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to provide the community with an opportunity to testify and advocate for a rent freeze or the lowest possible increase given the proposal approved by the RGB.