By Rachel Holliday Smith, additional reporting by Lauren Costantino and Allison Dikanovic, originally published in THE CITY.
It’s April 1 and rent is due. But many New Yorkers who have lost income because of the coronavirus-related lockdown suddenly don’t have the money to cover it.
Here’s what we know right now about options renters have or could soon gain as government officials, tenant advocates and landlords grapple with the financial fallout of the pandemic.
Will I have to pay rent for April?
We got tons of questions from readers about this and, in short: Yes, you have to pay rent, even if you lost your job because of the coronavirus.
You may have heard about the 90-day moratorium on evictions made statewide by Gov. Andrew Cuomo through an executive order. That means, if you don’t pay your rent, there will be no evictions proceedings until at least June 20. But that doesn’t suspend the requirement to pay.
OK, so I can’t be evicted. What if my landlord tries anyway?
If your landlord tries to throw you out, know that his or her actions are illegal and you have the right to report it to the police — illegally evicting a tenant is a criminal misdemeanor.
“An eviction moratorium is clear, and is exactly what it sounds like: no evictions,” Jason Wu of the Legal Aid Society wrote in a recent op-ed column for the New York Daily News..
Any New Yorker who does get an eviction notice, or who sees or experiences an eviction being executed by the City Marshals, should report it to the Bureau of City Marshals in the Department of Investigation at (212) 825-5953.
What about a rent freeze? Is that going to happen?
Two bills have been proposed in the state legislature — one by State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) and another by Assemblymember Yuh Line Niou (D-Manhattan) — that would forgive rent payments for 90 days for residential and small business commercial tenants who have lost income due to the coronavirus crisis. It would also give a break on mortgage payments to landlords of affected tenants.
Many tenant advocates have been pushing for a statewide rent freeze, including Housing Justice for All, a coalition of advocacy organizations that successfully lobbied for rent reform measures adopted in Albany last year.
But the person with the power to sign the freeze into law, if it gets through the legislature, is Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and he doesn’t seem too keen on it.
When asked about a rent freeze on Monday, Cuomo insisted the eviction moratorium already “solves” the issue, Curbed New York reported.
“We have said that no one can get evicted for nonpayment of rent and that to me is the fundamental answer,” he said at a press conference at the Javits Center.
Stopping evictions temporarily, however, is not the same thing as forgiving rent owed under a lease. Asked on Tuesday about what could be done to relieve rent debts, Cuomo responded, “We’ll deal with that when we get to it. There has to be some smoothing.”
Any better ideas?
Mayor Bill de Blasio has backed an idea to freeze all rents for the city’s one million rent-regulated apartments, Politico reported. The move would need state approval.
Borough presidents Gale Brewer and Eric Adams have joined two City Council members to push to allow renters to use their security deposits to cover April rent. De Blasio said on Monday he would support it, POLITICO reported, but it’s unclear when or how it would be enacted. This, too, would need state approval.
Meanwhile, activists are mobilizing for a rent strike. On Wednesday morning, Housing Justice for All and Right to Counsel NYC will release rent strike toolkits for tenants organizing their buildings.
Is there any way for me to get my rent reduced?
If you live in NYCHA public housing or receive a Section 8 voucher and have lost income due to the pandemic, you may be eligible for a rent reduction. NYCHA residents who end up with a loss of income for at least two months should request income recertification through the NYCHA Self-Service Portal or through their local management office.
Those receiving a Section 8 voucher via the Department of Housing Preservation and Development should email DTRAI@hpd.nyc.gov to seek lower rent due to lost income.