Last week, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation that would extend the eviction moratorium until Aug. 31, but city landlord lobbyists are trying to halt the measure.
The Rent Stabilization Association and the Community Housing Improvement Program, which collectively represent about 30,000 landlords throughout the city, joined other property owners in filing the federal lawsuit May 6, just two days after Cuomo extended the moratorium three months from the original May 1 expiration.
The legislation prohibits residential and commercial evictions, foreclosure proceedings, credit discrimination and negative credit reporting related to the pandemic until the end of August in order to protect tenants suffering from Covid-19-induced financial trouble. Only tenants who can prove financial hardship are covered by the law — landlords are still able to evict residents who pose a safety hazard to others or infringe on other building occupants.
Despite the measure’s good intentions, the lobbyists argue the legislation is “arbitrary” and a direct violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
“This action challenges the constitutionality of the New York Rent Stabilization Laws that govern nearly one million apartments in New York City,” the complaint reads. “These laws, together with the actions of the City Council making the law applicable in New York City and the decisions of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board setting permissible rent increases, violate the United States Constitution.”
The eviction ban also gives the state time to hash out the details of the $2.4 billion rent relief program that will be included in this year’s budget. Though not up and running yet, eligible tenants will soon be able to apply for the program, which can cover up to 15 months of rent in full.
The rent relief program would also help out small landlords, Tenants Political Action Committee Treasurer Michael McKee pointed out. Protections for small landlords are written into the new law enticing them to keep tenants in their buildings — landlords cannot qualify for relief if they have empty units.
McKee admitted the larger landlord corporations, such as Blackstone Group or the LeFrak Organization, would be the only ones unable to benefit from the legislation. But, McKee argued, they can stand to lose a few bucks, while small landlords and struggling tenants cannot.
“I think the landlords’ arguments are incredibly weak and our lawyers are convinced they’re going to lose. They’ve sued on these same grounds before and lost, but they have so much money they don’t care,” he told the Chronicle. “They probably know they’re going to lose and the reason they’re doing this is to keep tenants nervous.”
If the state-mandated moratorium was not extended, McKee believes there would have been a massive eviction surge, especially because tenants in need have not yet had the opportunity to apply for the rent relief program.
“The law is essential. The extension to August is absolutely essential. It’s very clear,” he said.