More than two months into the coronavirus pandemic, landlords in two states have filed legal challenges to eviction moratoriums put into place as a result of the health crisis, arguing that the bans are unconstitutional.
On May 27, a group of landlords in Westchester County, a suburban area just north of New York City, filed a lawsuit against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo challenging his extension of a previously enacted eviction moratorium.
The owners say the extension violated their contract and due process rights and “constitutes an improper taking” of the landlords’ properties, according to the complaint. Filed in federal court in White Plains, the suit aims to reverse two provisions of the May 7 extension order: the prevention of landlords from pursuing eviction proceedings through August 19 and the option for renters to put their security deposit towards their rent payment.
“…the order has given carte blanche to tenants to withhold rent without immediate repercussion,” wrote attorney Mark Guterman of Lehrman, Lehrman & Guterman, who represents the group of landlords, in the filing.
“Plaintiffs and all similarly situated landlords are precluded from asserting their rights and obtaining relief to protect their property, all the while remaining obligated to pay all of their own carrying costs and other expenses, including taxes to the various governmental divisions of New York State,” read the complaint.
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In Massachusetts, a similar complaint has been filed to challenge the state’s eviction moratorium that was enacted in April. Attorneys representing two Boston-area landlords filed an emergency petition in Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court on May 29 seeking to nullify the ban on the grounds that the moratorium is unconstitutional and oversteps its legal bounds.
“Aside from the numerous constitutional violations asserted and established by the Petitioners, the state has eviscerated the core remedy in their leases—the right to evict,” wrote attorney Richard Vetstein in the petition.
The state’s moratorium prohibits nearly all residential evictions, with the exception of those involving criminal activity or lease violations that could negatively impact the health and safety of other residents. The ban is set to expire on August 18 or 45 days after Governor Charlie Baker lifts the Coronavirus state of emergency, whichever comes first. Additionally, the law allows the governor to extend the moratorium in 90-day increments.
“Aside from the numerous constitutional violations asserted and established by the Petitioners, the state has eviscerated the core remedy in their leases—the right to evict,” wrote attorney Richard Vetstein in the petition. Both landlords represented by Vetstein said they have struggled to collect rent because of the moratorium.
Owners and landlords in Orange County, Calif., and Union City, N.J., have also pushed back against eviction moratoriums enacted at the local level in recent weeks.
The legal challenges come amid a turbulent time for the U.S., which has seen unemployment numbers skyrocket as the coronavirus pandemic churns towards its third month, leaving many industries, including real estate, reeling.