A total of 3,059 tenants were evicted from New York City apartments in all of 2020, according to new data provided by the city’s Department of Investigation. That’s a decrease of more than 80 percent, or about 18 percent of the nearly 17,000 evictions completed in 2019.
The data was compiled by DOI from reports submitted by city marshals, who are charged with enforcing court orders, including evictions. There was no breakdown by month. However, tenant advocates said it is pretty obvious the eviction moratorium Governor Andrew Cuomo signed after the pandemic struck last March contributed to this year’s dramatically low number of evictions.
“From what we see we’re thinking most of the numbers were pre-pandemic,” said Haydee Villanueva, a tenant leader with Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) in the southwest Bronx. She also noted that every time the moratorium was about to expire, advocates succeeded in getting it extended. It is now due to expire on May 1st.
“The comparison between 2020 and 2019 clearly reflects the success the tenant movement had in 2020 in getting evictions halted,” said Andrew Scherer, policy director for New York Law School’s Impact Center for Public Interest Law.
In addition to the moratorium, Scherer credited the pandemic’s halt to most housing court proceedings, as well as funds to avert evictions and provide counsel to all tenants facing eviction, regardless of income. He said the 2017 Right to Counsel Law, which expanded free access to tenants in housing court, was already reducing the number of annual evictions. Steps were taken during the pandemic to connect even more tenants with attorneys.
“Hopefully, there are lessons learned here that can lead to a reset of the whole eviction process as the pandemic becomes less virulent and the courts resume,” Scherer added.
The emergency act Cuomo signed in December provides relief to tenants and property owners who can demonstrate they were adversely affected by the pandemic. But they must sign paperwork by February 26th to delay eviction and foreclosure proceedings. Elected officials have been urging people to fill out these “hardship forms” on time, because response rates have been slow.
The eviction moratorium protects a tenant from losing their home, but they are still required to pay the rent they owed during the pandemic. Landlords are increasingly desperate to collect that income, especially after the moratorium has been repeatedly extended. There have been protests against the moratorium in Albany and in New York City.
“For those tenants truly impacted by the pandemic they need and deserve financial assistance,” said Frank Ricci, executive vice president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords. But he said there are also “tenants that have gamed the system and not paid rent because there are no consequences. This ultimately hurts other tenants in the building and the housing stock.”
Tenant leaders are now promoting a proposal to cancel rent altogether, which would have the state pay landlords what they are owed. They believe it will be too difficult for tenants who lost jobs during the pandemic to come up with the back rent, especially if they cannot complete the required paperwork. “Having to have people prove hardship, some people have jobs that are not really documented,” said Villanueva. “Some people are undocumeted themselves.”
The total number of 3,059 evictions in 2020 also includes possessions and ejectments. Possessions are far more common because landlords are not required to remove both the tenant and their property — they can merely change the locks. Ejections are evictions ordered by a Supreme Court instead of Housing Court.
Despite the moratorium, landlords are still allowed to begin the court process for evicting tenants and they are moving ahead on cases unrelated to the pandemic. However, Gothamist/WNYC reported the number of filings last year was much lower than in previous years — which could be a sign that landlords are cutting deals with tenants to pay whatever they can and avoid the whole court process for as long as possible.