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As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc across the globe, its biggest impact has arguably been felt by the housing industry. Now, more than ever, it is of paramount importance that New York tenants understand their rights and obligations in this challenging economic environment. In this multi-part series, we address some common issues faced by renters, and provide our recommendations on how best to handle such situations, particularly in the face of this pandemic.

Part 1 tackles the following questions:

  • What if I can’t pay the rent?

While not having the cash isn’t a legal excuse to avoid paying the rent, tenants have been afforded some temporary relief. By Executive Order 202.28, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo extended an eviction moratorium through August of this year. Thus, New York residential and commercial tenants, who are facing financial hardship due to COVID-19, or who are eligible for unemployment, can not be evicted until August 20, 2020. The Governor has also banned fees for late or missed payments during this period. This, however, is not a rent-forgiveness program and, absent some form of legislation from the City or State, tenants may ultimately be required to pay arrears in full, UNLESS they have some other legal basis to withhold the monies.

  • What if my lease is expiring soon?

When a fair-market lease is expiring, communication with ownership is key. We always suggest that tenants reach out to landlords PRIOR to the end of their leases. It is easier to negotiate lease-extension terms when your tenancy is still ongoing, than to do so after it ends. Potential options include allowing you to remain from month-to-month until such time as the crisis abates, or working out a short-term renewal. Some landlords may also be willing to apply all or a portion your security deposit toward your rent obligations.

  • What if my co-tenant skipped town, do I still have to pay?

It is important to note that when you sign a lease with another tenant, you are both individually and collectively responsible for ALL of the rent. If you are currently the sole occupant of an apartment, we suggest that you inform your landlord of this development. If your co-tenant refuses to pay his/her share, you may want to reach out to the owner to negotiate some sort of payment plan and/or modified lease arrangement. Additionally, you also have the option of taking your co-tenant to court to collect any unpaid sums. (Proving this kind of case may be challenging if you don’t have an express written agreement delineating how rent is to be divided. Absent evidence to the contrary, a judge will likely assume that the obligation is shared equally, and proportionately.)

In Part 2, we will explore some other pressing tenant-issues, including your rights if you have tested positive for COVID-19, or if your rental unit is in need of emergency repairs.

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DISCLAIMER: As COVID-19 related developments change daily, this must be viewed as an exceptionally fluid situation. Accordingly, prior to taking any action, we strongly urge you to contact our office to ascertain whether there has been any change that would impact this analysis, or whether there are discrete facts or developments unique to your situation which would warrant undertaking a different tact or course.