While attorneys are still learning to navigate the changing landscape of evictions in New York as a result of certain Executive Orders and recent changes to Court Rules, the New York State legislature and Governor Cuomo have added further complexity by passing and signing into law the Tenant Safe Harbor Act (the “Act”). The Act, signed into law on June 30, 2020 and effective immediately, prohibits residential evictions for unpaid rent accrued between March 7, 2020 and the complete reopening of the tenant’s region. A region is not deemed completely reopened until the expiration of all the Executive Orders restricting public and private businesses, places of public accommodation, and non-essential gatherings. None of the regions in the state are considered completely reopened at this time.
The Act’s only requirement is that the residential tenant prove, in court, that it experienced financial hardship during the “COVID-19 covered period.” The Act does not define “financial hardship,” but suggests courts consider a tenant’s income before and during the COVID-19 shutdown, liquid assets, and government assistance status. Thus, demonstration of financial hardship is a relatively low bar to meet and qualifying tenants can never be evicted for failure to pay rent during the COVID-19 shutdown. The new legislation does not affect the previous Executive Order prohibiting landlords from commencing eviction proceedings against tenants suffering from COVID-19 related financial hardships through August 20, 2020.
Importantly, the Act does allow evictions if residential tenants fail to resume timely rent payments following the complete reopening of their individual regions. The law does not prohibit entry of a money judgment against a residential tenant for back rent and is completely silent as to holdover proceedings. The Court system has not issued further guidance in response to the Act.
Keep in mind that the Act does not extend the same protections to commercial tenants.