Legal Options During the Housing Court Shutdown

Michael Littman, Partner

New Restrictions Imposed on Eviction Proceedings

On December 28, 2020, Governor Cuomo signed the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020. The Act is intended to suspend eviction proceedings at least until March 1, 2021, and in most cases until May 1, 2021. Here are the key takeaways:

  1. Any pending cases on December 28, 2020 is stayed until at least March 1, 2021.
    • A “stay” means that no action will be taken on the case this includes: conferences, decisions on motion, or signing off on settlements.
  2. Any cases that are filed between December 28, 2020 until January 27, 2021 are stayed for Sixty (60) days.
  3. The law creates “Hardship Declarations” which are forms to be filled out by tenants. If a tenant claims a hardship during or due to the COVID-19 pandemic then any case is stayed until May 1, 2021.
  4. Owners can serve notices and petitions during this period. However, each document must be accompanied by a Hardship Declaration. If the tenant returns a completed form to the owner then the case is stayed until May 1, 2021.
  5. The only exception to the stay of actions is for pending or new cases alleging nuisance by tenants that affects other tenant’s use and enjoyment of their apartments, or causes safety hazards.

Your Options During the Stay

Although, Housing Court cases are suspended at least until March 1, 2021, and in most cases until May 1, 2021, landlords can pursue other remedies. In 2020, the Governor also signed into law the Safe Harbor Act. This law states that if a tenant establishes that his/her failure to pay rent was due to the COVID-19 pandemic then the tenant cannot be evicted from the apartment. Instead, the owner is entitled only to a money judgment.

Therefore, since Housing Court is paused in most instances until May 1, 2021, and Housing Court’s processing of cases is severely delayed, if there is a reasonable belief that the tenant’s failure to pay was due to COVID-19, then you should consider commencing an action in Civil Court or Supreme Court for arrears. If you are not entitled to seek an eviction, there may be little reason to wait for Housing Court to open back up. While all Courts have delays during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are no stays of Civil Court or Supreme Court cases. Cases are being accepted for filing without the need for any other notices, declarations, or advisements.

Please contact us to discuss what you are your best options.

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