Eviction Bans Enacted as Virus Spreads

Several members of an influential New York City industry group pledged to halt all evictions for 90 days, as other cities weigh similar measures.
Image via Flickr Creative Commons user tom.arthur

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to spread and was today declared a national emergency by President Trump, some of the largest metro areas in the U.S., including New York City, Los Angeles and Seattle, are considering enacting a moratorium on residential evictions.

Currently, five states have enacted eviction moratoriums in response to the Coronavirus: Kentucky, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Delaware and New York. Late last week, San Francisco announced a halt to evictions for at least 30 days.

The virus, which has sickened hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and nearly 2,000 in the U.S., has led many cities to begin shutting down businesses, schools and public spaces, in an effort to slow the rapid spread of the illness.

On Friday, the Real Estate Board of New York, the largest and most powerful real estate lobby in New York City, said members of its organization that combined represent 150,000 rental units in the city, had agreed to not evict any of their residents for the next 90 days.

In an open letter, more than two dozen real estate firms including major owners like Blackstone, Brookfield Properties, Related Companies and Vornado, pledged to put a moratorium on evictions to protect the city’s “most vulnerable,” unless the eviction is for criminal or negligent behavior that jeopardizes the life, health or safety of other residents.

“With all the stress, health risk and economic suffering going on now, no one should have to worry about losing their place to live during this crisis,” read the open letter.

“WRONG AND DANGEROUS”

Last week, state lawmakers in New York introduced legislation to enact a moratorium on evictions as well as foreclosures during the outbreak. State Senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh announced the bill yesterday, after concerns were raised by a number of housing advocate groups and elected officials in the state.

“This is a crucial step to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from choosing between protecting their health & defending their homes during this state of emergency,” tweeted New York State Senator Julia Salazar, who sent a letter on Thursday signed by 24 state senators to the New York State Court of Appeals asking for an immediate moratorium.

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks released a memo announcing a one-week moratorium on evictions in New York City, which would be subject to an extension upon further review.

“Simultaneously, we are directing that until further notice, the New York City Housing Court decline to issue new eviction warrants when a party has not appeared in court,” said Marks in the memo.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced that she was suspending eviction enforcement effective immediately in the suburban New York City region, where more than 1.3 million people reside. 

“It would be both wrong and dangerous to kick people out of their homes during this public health emergency,” said Curran.

OTHER CITIES TAKE ACTION

Across the country, major cities are moving towards eviction bans, including Miami, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

In Los Angeles, several elected officials are pushing for a temporary moratorium not just on evictions, but for shutting off utilities like water and gas to renters who had not paid their bill. A proposal is expected to be introduced for a vote at the next city council meeting this week.

In Seattle, Wash., one of the most expensive metros in the country and one of the cities hardest hit by the Coronavirus outbreak, a City Councilmember called for a moratorium on rent-related evictions as well, echoing concerns from several advocate groups in the city.

The National Multifamily Housing Council joined the chorus as well, on Friday calling on the government to help renters in need of financial assistance as a result of the pandemic.

“Short-term financial assistance would help poor families continue paying rent and buying food until the broader economy stabilizes,” said Bibby. “It would be more effective than a temporary moratorium on evictions (as some jurisdictions have enacted), since landlords also need money to pay their mortgages, property taxes, and utilities.”

The organization encouraged members and all providers of housing to stay in regular contact with their residents and suggested working with them on payment plans and agreements in writing, waiving late fees and administrative costs over the next 30 days, developing a response plan for potential virus exposure and sharing resources about COVID-19 with residents.

“The nation is facing an unparalleled challenge,” said NMHC President Doug Bibby in a statement. “In this time of uncertainty, it has never been more important for the public and private sectors to work together and alleviate the effects of COVID-19 to the greatest extent we can.”