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Limits of Tenant Protections Face Test

As we have previously reported, the entire nation is on the precipice of a “tidal wave” of evictions that threaten to displace millions from their homes.[1]

While the recently enacted New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act[2] bars the removal of certain tenants (who because of financial hardship failed to pay rent that accrued between March 7, 2020 and the end of certain pandemic restrictions), scores of others are still at risk. In fact, even those that are arguably protected aren't in the clear, as landlords can still obtain money judgments and go after their tenants’ assets and/or garnish the latter's wages, if they happen to be gainfully employed.

Spectrum News NY1 reports that over 700 eviction proceedings have been filed in New York City since the expiration of the blanket moratorium on June 20, 2020.[3] While a June 18, 2020 directive from Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks[4] stayed all eviction proceedings until such time as the gubernatorial Executive Orders suspending the prosecution of legal matters expire, tenants who do not fall within the Safe Harbor Act’s scope are now living with the “Sword of Damocles” dangling over their heads; uncertain as to when they could face the loss of their apartments.

One such tenant -- Joshua Penafiel -- was profiled by NY1.

Penafiel, who lives with his pregnant wife and three other family members, was served with a 90-day termination notice prior to the pandemic, and subsequently received a holdover petition based on lease expiration.[5] As his eviction is not being sought on nonpayment grounds, he would arguably not be entitled to the Safe Harbor’s protections, and is likely to lose his home when the stay on prosecuting eviction proceedings expires.

And even tenants who are experiencing financial hardship also appear to be at risk. Another tenant interviewed by NY1, Abdelmounaim Leghmizi, is now facing a nonpayment proceeding. Since his rent accrued on March 1st (prior to the March 7th “COVID-19 covered period” referenced in the Safe Harbor Act) , it is unclear if he would be entitled to the law’s protections. Mr. Leghzimizi’s landlord advised NY1 that he has no plans to withdraw the case and will take his chances in court, citing his own financial challenges, given other nonpaying tenants and the obligation to pay property taxes.

Undeniably, there are no easy answers here.  But, since time is running out, something must be done to avoid a housing crisis on a scale not seen since the Great Depression.