Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Landlord’s New World – Sue for Money Judgment, Not Eviction

Effective June 30, 2020, the Tenant Safe Harbor Act (“Act”) was signed into law by Governor Cuomo. Essentially, the Act prohibits courts from issuing a warrant of eviction or judgment of possession against a residential tenant for non-payment due to financial hardship during the COVID-19 covered period, but it allows landlords to obtain a money judgment for rent in a summary proceeding. Alternatively, landlords can simply commence a plenary action for the money judgment in district, county, or supreme court as jurisdictionally appropriate.

The Act defines “COVID-19 covered period” as March 7, 2020 until the date executive orders which closed or restricted public or private businesses, or required the postponement or cancellation of non-essential gatherings for any size for any reason expire. This means that until all businesses are allowed to be 100% open, a tenant may claim financial hardship and not be evicted.

As a result, A landlord who starts a summary proceeding to evict a tenant or lawful occupant for non-payment of rent will not be able to get a warrant of eviction or judgment of possession if the tenant or lawful occupant claims that he suffered financial hardship during the COVID-19 covered period. Tenants and lawful occupants are also allowed to raise it as a defense in the summary proceeding.

To determine whether a tenant suffered a financial hardship, courts shall consider the following, among other relevant factors:

  1. Tenant’s or lawful occupant’s income prior to the COVID-19 period;
  2. Tenant’s or lawful occupant’s income during the COVID-19 period;
  3. Tenant's or lawful occupant's liquid assets; and
  4. Tenant’s or lawful occupant's eligibility for and receipt of cash assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance program, supplemental security income, the New York State disability program, the home energy assistance program, or unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law.

The Act, however, does not prohibit landlords from obtaining a money judgment for rent if successful in a summary proceeding. Landlords are advised to contact counsel to discuss the best strategy to manage their tenants while complying with the various executive orders and laws in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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