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Legality of Stay on Evictions due to COVID-19


During the past few months, the laws regarding landlord tenant matters have been of paramount concern. In particular, tenants have been in constant fear of being evicted from their homes while trying to survive this crisis. In order to avoid mass evictions caused by tenants' inability to pay rent during this significant economic downturn, the Governor established a stay on evictions through August 20, 2020.

While certainly a lifeline to tenants, the stay left landlords with little recourse. Landlords were expected to wait months prior to commencing eviction and non-payment proceedings. Needless to say, the Governor's stay created financial chaos for landlords, as landlords have expenses, not least of which are their taxes and mortgage payments. 

An action was recently brought by several Westchester landlords alleging that the governmental actions violated the Federal takings and due process clauses of the 14th amendment. The Court held that the Governor’s stay on evictions is legal.The Judge ruled that in times of national emergency, such stays were legal, as they did not involve a physical taking of property, but rather merely limited the circumstances in which tenants could be evicted. Moreover, the landlords' remedies were not eliminated, but only postponed to a date uncertain. See this article for more information.  

This decision sets a dangerous precedent for governmental regulation. Should these stays continue, landlords will be in a very precarious position. While they theoretically have the ability to seek damages for non-payment at an uncertain future date, these landlords still have expenses and obligations which have not been stayed. 

Furthermore, on June 30th, the Governor signed a “Tenants Safe Harbor Act,” which extends the August 20, 2020 eviction moratorium indefinitely. See this article for additional information. This law allows tenants to remain in possession should their non-payment of rent be the result of virus related economic conditions. This open ended standard — with no specificity as to criteria for determining hardship --  will allow non-paying tenants to remain in possession and avoid eviction, but does permit landlords to commence proceedings for nonpayment of rent. While this may sound like progress for landlords, it may be progress in name only. In most instances, landlords will obtain meaningless money judgments against individuals, many of whom are judgment proof, while still being obliged to incur the expense of providing services and benefits to occupants who fail to pay rent for months on end.  

These new developments in landlord/tenant law require landlords and tenants to seek experienced counsel to guide them in making prudent and informed decisions. We at the Litt Law Group are here to help.