New York’s rental housing providers have rounded on the Trump Administration after it introduced a new moratorium on the eviction of tenants making less than $99,000 a year.
The ban – which will run through December 31, 2020 – was issued through the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as a means to help stem the further spread of coronavirus.
In the order, the CDC says COVID-19 “presents a historic threat to public health” that has already claimed the lives of 174,000 Americans and infected 5.5 million others.
“To respond to this public health threat, the Federal, State, and local governments have taken unprecedented or exceedingly rare actions, including border closures, restrictions on travel, stay-at-home orders, mask requirements, and eviction moratoria,” said the CDC.
“Despite these best efforts, COVID-19 continues to spread and further action is needed. In the context of a pandemic, eviction moratoria—like quarantine, isolation, and social distancing—can be an effective public health measure utilized to prevent the spread of communicable disease.”
The new order doesn’t forgive rent and landlords can attempt to recover unpaid rent when the moratorium ends.
But with their own bills piling up, New York’s landlords are calling foul, claiming the move could destabilize the enter rental sector and run property owners out of business.
“An eviction moratorium is like closing the doors to an emergency room,” said Jay Martin, executive director of Community Housing Improvement Program.
“It does not help renters who are behind on payments and it does not help owners who still have taxes and mortgages to pay. We need a full financial bailout of renters to keep the housing market, and our economy, stable. Anything less is delaying further pain for small political wins.”
Calling the moratorium “pandemic politics,” Joe Strasburg, head of New York City’s largest organization of landlords, said, “It’s politics governing housing policy – a federal agency being used as a political tool for re-election purposes. It’s a scheme that addresses one group at the expense of another.”
The leader of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents 25,000 landlords in New York City’s five boroughs, fumed, “This has ‘national housing disaster’ written all over it. This will devastate small building owners who provide the bulk of affordable housing,.
“And no one has the stomach to address the elephant in the room: building owners need rent revenue to maintain and repair their buildings and, most importantly, to pay property taxes – revenue that cities like New York are desperate for, now more than ever in this pandemic, because it means they won’t have to lay off municipal employees or cut essential services.”
He continued, “Although the federal government is taking measures to protect millions of tenants – and appropriately so – it is neglecting millions of rental apartment building owners whose property taxes, water bills, and repair and maintenance bills have been piling up since April.
“When is someone on any level of government going to understand that you can’t just keep kicking this problem down the road?” Strasburg said. “Tenants who haven’t had the rent money for five months are not going to come up with nine months of rent in December. Who is protecting landlords against lien sales, fines and interest penalties when they can’t pay their taxes?”
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Strasburg said his organization has called on all levels of government to provide temporary subsidies in the form of monthly rent vouchers to tenants that are financially affected by this health crisis.
“An extended federal moratorium on evictions is tantamount to rent deferral – rent payments that owners will never see – which means the federal government has to either help low income tenants with monthly rent vouchers, or implement a moratorium on property taxes and mortgage payments,” Strasburg said.
“This can’t be a one-way street. The economic health of municipalities hinges on the vitality of housing. Congress needs to put their differences aside and come to an agreement on a new stimulus package to provide immediate financial relief to millions of Americans – and that includes landlords.”
Doug Bibby, president of the National Multifamily Housing Council, said his group was “disappointed,” saying that without mortgage forbearance protections and protections from other property-level financial obligations such as property taxes, insurance payments, and utility service, “the stability of the entire rental housing sector is thrown into question.”
The Real Estate Board of New York said it will continue to advocate for the federal government to provide state and local aid and support expansion of rental assistance programs.
“Since the start of the pandemic, the primary concern for our members has been providing safe shelter for all New Yorkers,” said James Whelan, president of REBNY. “We put forward a voluntary eviction moratorium, continue to work directly with hard-hit tenants and initiate programs like Project Parachute, an industry effort to advocate for resources and support non-profits that work with tenants to keep them in their homes. Solutions need to address the needs of tenants and owners.” – James Whelan, President, REBNY
Tenant advocates are also less than enthusiastic about the moratorium.
“While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“This action delays but does not prevent evictions. Congress and the White House must get back to work on negotiations to enact a COVID-19 relief bill with at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. Together with a national eviction moratorium, this assistance would keep renters stably housed and small landlords able to pay their bills and maintain their properties during the pandemic.”
Under the rules of the CDC moratorium, renters have to sign a declaration saying they don’t make more than $99,000 a year — or twice that if filing a joint tax return — that they have tried to seek government assistance and make an effort to pay but will end up homeless if evicted.
The government says it will impose criminal penalties on landlords who violate the ban and evictions are still allowed for reasons other than nonpayment of rent.
The moratorium comes as New York State recorded its 26th straight day of an infection rate below 1 percent. 81 people were admitted to hospital with COVID symptoms yesterday (Tuesday) and five people died. 264 New York City residents tested positive for the virus, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“26 straight days with an infection rate below one percent is no mean feat,” Governor Cuomo said. “However, high case levels throughout the country are storm clouds on the horizon, and we have to stay vigilant in partnership with the enforcement of local governments. ”
Photo top by Belinda Fewings via Flickr