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PRESSING FORWARD WITH CIVIL LITIGATION

As the presidential race dragged on, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a new Executive Order on Tuesday of last week, lifting the pause on the state’s civil suit deadlines.

As we reported in an earlier article, when COVID started wreaking havoc back in March of this year, Cuomo tolled “any specific time limit for the commencement, filing, or service of any legal action, notice, motion, or other process or proceeding” in civil cases across the state. The move was designed to help New Yorkers come to terms with the disruptions that the pandemic brought to their lives. And that protection was extended by successive executive orders, with the last one¬†expiring on November 3, 2020.

On that date, Cuomo announced that the suspension of civil litigation deadlines would no longer be in effect. That, of course, is likely to have a direct impact on thousands of tenants throughout the state who have pending eviction cases filed against them. Typically, in a nonpayment case, tenants are required to respond to a landlord’s paperwork or "petition" within ten days, or risk being evicted on “default.” To prevent widespread panic among renters who would suddenly have to scramble to avoid such an outcome, the latest Executive Order provides tenants with a 60-day window -- starting November 3 --¬†within which to file their responses.

That protection, however, only applies if the nonpayment case was filed when the tolling was in effect (i.e. between March 17 and November 3). For petitions filed on or after November 4, the old, statutory 10-day deadline applies.

It remains to be seen how tenants in nonpayment cases will be notified of the changed policy. Some may be under the mistaken belief that the tolling period is still in effect; or worse, that they have sixty additional days to respond. That would be wrong, as noted above; as the response window for some could close as soon as November 14 (in instances where the petition was filed on November 4).

Lucian Chalfen, the spokesperson for the Office of Court Administration, indicated that it was not the courts’ responsibility to inform tenants of policy changes. According to Chalfen, when courts previously directed landlords to include a COVID disclaimer in their petitions (informing tenants that they would have more time to respond), such notice “was never meant to be interpreted as saying that tenants didn’t ever have to answer the petition or that we assumed responsibility for telling every tenant when they had to answer.”

If you are in receipt of court papers filed by your landlord, please reach out to one of our attorneys, to explore the options and legal remedies that may be available to you.

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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 any recommendations made, or whether there are discrete facts or developments which would warrant undertaking a different tact or course.

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