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Your Rights as a Tenant During COVID-19—FAQs Answered

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic devastation to millions. In New York City, where the cost of living is one of the highest in the country, many New Yorkers are unable to pay rent and fear potentially being evicted.

On June 10th, 2020, NYLAG held a live Q&A that discussed evictions, rent strikes, rent payments, your rights as a tenant, and more. You can view the pre-recorded video below, as well as some FAQs.

Below are some of the FAQs Answered:

First, remember that a landlord cannot evict you without first taking you to court. That means before you can lose your home, your landlord must go through the following steps:

  • Your landlord must send you a formal rent demand for payment of any rent due. Landlords must give you at least 14 days to pay the alleged debt before they can proceed to take you to court.
  • If you have not paid the back rent by the date on the rent demand, the landlord may start a nonpayment case against you in Housing Court. Because of the pandemic, landlords cannot currently proceed to this step. We do not yet know when the courts will reopen, what that will look like, or how much advance warning we will get before they do.
  • When the courts do reopen on June 22, 2020, though, you should look out for court documents laying out the amount of rent owed, the months that have not been paid, and a date by which you must appear in court. This document is called a Petition. If you receive a Petition for a Housing Court non-payment case, it’s very important that you answer the Petition. If you don’t answer the Petition, your landlord can win its case by default.

If you do not have the money to pay back your rent, there are One Shot Deals, rental subsidies, and charitable organizations that can help. Click here to learn more.

Governor Cuomo has extended the eviction moratorium until August 20, but only for some.

  • If you do not already have a judgment of eviction (also called a possessory judgment) against you, you still cannot be evicted until the courts reopen.
  • If there is not already a Housing Court case against you for nonpayment of rent, you also cannot be evicted until the courts reopen.
  • Housing Court will open to new filings on June 22, 2020. 

To learn more, click here.

You are more at risk. You may receive a marshal’s notice of eviction as early as June 22, 2020. The marshal’s notice is your warning that eviction is coming soon. However, receiving a marshal’s notice of eviction does not necessarily mean that you will be evicted.

If you receive a marshal’s notice of eviction, you need to act quickly. As soon as you can, you should file an Order to Show Cause with the court to request that the eviction not happen. In legal jargon, you’d be requesting a “stay of eviction.” There are a few grounds on which a judge can stop your eviction from happening temporarily:

  • First, for those with judgments of eviction in non-payment cases who can demonstrate a COVID-19 related financial hardship, the eviction moratorium is extended to August 20, 2020. If this sounds vague, that’s because it is. It is not clear now how someone could demonstrate hardship.
  • Next, if you are in a nonpayment proceeding, you can argue that the eviction should be stopped because of the steps you have taken to repay the rent.
  • Finally, whether your judgment of eviction is in nonpayment or a holdover case, you can argue that an eviction would be unjust.

Click here to discuss your specific situation.

A rent strike can be a great way for you and your neighbors to band together if you already cannot pay your rent. If you cannot pay rent as an individual and many others in your building are in the same boat, organizing a rent strike can give you leverage against your landlord.

But rent strikes can be risky, especially for undocumented tenants. Before striking you should speak with an experienced tenant organizer. The Right to Counsel Coalition has resources for folks considering rent strikes. You can find them at righttocounselnyc.org, or Google “Rent Strike Toolkit”, or go to bit.ly/RentStrikeNY, or text (don’t call) the words “Rent Strike” or “Huelga De Renta” to 646-542-1920.

Housing Court will reopen to new filings on June 22, 2020. All ongoing eviction cases involving unrepresented litigants are also on hold for the time being, and most ongoing cases involving attorneys are in the same posture for now. If you already have an attorney in your Housing Court case, I encourage you to reach out to them for more detail. If you do not have an attorney and you have an ongoing court case, you will receive a postcard in the mail from the court with your next court date, but it’s hard to say when that might happen.

Remember: You can only be evicted from your home if your landlord starts a case in Housing Court, obtains a judgment of eviction against you, you are served with a marshal’s notice, and the marshal comes to your home to evict you.

Even though Housing Court will reopen to new filings on June 22, 2020, it is still open to tenants if you (a) have been illegally locked out of your apartment (b) have emergency repairs that your landlord is ignoring or (c) are being harassed by your landlord in a particularly aggressive way.

If you’ve been evicted after March 16, 2020, it’s likely that your eviction was illegal and you can start an illegal lockout case in the Housing Court in the borough you lived in to get back into your home (be restored to possession). If you believe you have been illegally locked out, you can call us. We’ll give you the number at the end. Or you can go to the Housing Court in the borough in which you lived to file an illegal lockout proceeding on your own.

Yes. If you have an emergency in your home, you can also take your landlord to Housing Court to get those repairs taken care of quickly. What constitutes an emergency repair—as opposed to a non-emergency repair—is unclear, but some examples include not having hot water or gas, a ceiling collapse, a non-functioning toilet, a serious leak, basically anything that makes your home unlivable. These repairs cases are called HP Actions. To file an HP Action, you can go to the Housing Court in the borough in which you live or call the Housing Court Virtual Help Center. For Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island call 718-262-7185 and for the Bronx and Manhattan call 646-386-5555. You can also call Housing Court Answers which has assistance available in Spanish at 212-962-4795

You might also be able to file an emergency harassment HP Action if your landlord is severely harassing you. You would follow the same procedure as for an emergency repairs case.

Yes, NYLAG would be happy to learn more to see if we can assist you. Call our NY COVID-19 Legal Resource Hotline and we’ll get back to you. Learn more at nylag.org/hotline.

For information on tenants’ rights and the latest resources for COVID-19, click here

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In response to the COVID-19 crisis, we are still working hard and our intake lines are open, but please note that our physical office is closed.

During these unprecedented times, we’ve launched a free NY COVID-19 Legal Resources Hotline and compiled the latest legal and financial counseling updates.