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Five months into the pandemic, it is not surprising that many New York City renters are now struggling to meet their rent. So far, most renters have been paying on time. This, however, may reflect the fact that since March, New York State has rolled out several programs to help renters. These programs included a moratorium on evictions, a ban on late fees for people who fail to pay their rent on time, and the COVID Rental Assistance Program. Unfortunately, all three of these programs, including the COVID Rental Assistance Program, have already expired or are scheduled to expire over the coming month.

This article clarifies which COVID-related programs to help renters are still active, summarizes renters’ rights, and offers links to additional resources to help renters hold on to their homes during this difficult time.

Eviction Moratoriums

Some people are under the false impression that President Trump extended the eviction moratorium on August 8. The President’s housing order didn’t issue an eviction moratorium but simply instructed the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to consider whether it may be necessary to ban residential evictions to prevent further spread of COVID-19 temporarily. That said, New York City renters do have some protections—at least for now.
Currently, New York State’s eviction moratorium extends to September 4. Unless the State extends this moratorium beyond the deadline, anyone who hasn’t paid their rent for the past few months may be at risk of losing their home. As recently reported in The Wall Street Journal, once the moratorium ends, an estimated 14,000 pre-pandemic eviction warrants will be free to move forward. This number doesn’t account for the new warrants likely to be issued in response to arrears accrued since the start of the pandemic in March.

While it is too soon to know if New York State will extend its moratorium on evictions, renters worried about eviction should know their rights. First, owners must have a reason to evict you (e.g., failure to pay rent) and give you at least fourteen days’ notice in writing. Second, as a tenant, you have a right to a court date. For more information, visit New York City’s newly launched Tenant Resource Portal.

Late Fees

Alongside those New Yorkers who can’t pay their rent, many others can pay but not necessarily on time. For the time being—that is, until August 20—you can pay your rent late without accruing a late fee. What happens beyond August 20, however, is yet to be seen.

Use of Security Deposits to Cover Rent

Since April, renters facing financial hardship due to the pandemic have been able to use their security deposit as payment for rent, but only if they promise to repay their security deposit over time. As stated in Executive Order 202.28: “Landlords and tenants or licensees of residential properties may, upon the consent of the tenant or licensee, enter into a written agreement by which the security deposit and any interest accrued thereof, shall be used to pay rent that is in arrears or will become due. If the amount of the deposit represents less than a full month rent payment, this consent does not constitute a waiver of the remaining rent due and owing for that month.” Unfortunately, like many other concessions made early on during the pandemic, this one is set to expire on August 20.

Rental Increases on Rent-Regulated Units

If you’re currently living in a rent-regulated unit, you’re in luck. In mid-June, the panel that sets rents for approximately 2.3 million New York City residents voted to freeze rental rates for one year. If you’re among the renters who live in a market-rent unit, you’re not protected. However, for reasons outlined in the next section, you may have more bargaining power than you think, especially if you’re about to negotiate a lease renewal.

Running Out of Options? Try Negotiating With Your Owner

In early July, The New York Times reported that vacancy rates were 3.67 at the end of June, compared to just 1.61 a year earlier. The same article reported that the increased surplus has already started to push down prices—June saw overall rental rates decline 4.8 percent compared to a year earlier. However, both vacancies and rental prices may see even more notable shifts as we move into the fall. New York City welcomes approximately 600,000 university students from across the United States and around the world every year. With most local universities, including NYU, The New School, Columbia, and Fordham, either offering a fully online or hybrid program this fall, the city will likely only welcome a fraction of those students. This likely means that come September, vacancies will increase, resulting in even steeper rental decreases. For anyone struggling to pay their rent, this is likely good news.
As the vacancy rate creeps up and rental prices decline, owners will have increased incentive to retain existing renters, even if they can’t currently pay their rent promptly. After all, ultimately, it may prove better to retain a long-term renter who has a history of paying their rent on time than to risk leaving a unit empty for months. There are also reports that some owners have been working out deals with tenants since the beginning of the pandemic. In April, Mario Salerno, who owns eighteen apartments in Brooklyn, gave all his tenants a month rent-free. Others have agreed to lower rent or exchange work for rent. While there is no guarantee that every owner will be understanding, as the pandemic persists and vacancies creep up, renters have nothing to lose by reaching out and attempting to strike a deal.

More Resources for Renters

Still worried about meeting your rent or already behind? These resources offer additional information to support New York City renters.

Additional Info About the Building

 
Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.
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