1-13-22 - As Seen in the Rochester Business Journal. Bob Hooks discusses ‘Tidal wave’ of eviction notices expected when moratorium ends Saturday

Posted on January 14, 2022

‘Tidal wave’ of eviction notices expected when moratorium ends Saturday

January 13, 2022

Landlords that have struggled to collect rent and perhaps pay their own mortgages will finally be able to start the process of reclaiming property when New York’s eviction moratorium expires on Saturday.

What began as a 90-day pause on eviction proceedings in March 2020 has continued into this week, but state officials now are letting a final emergency extension of the moratorium lapse.

That means landlords can again file petitions with local courts seeking eviction of tenants who are in arrears on rent or who have stayed beyond expiration of a lease.

“I spoke to two landlords today and they are thrilled,” said Robert Hooks, partner at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP.

Relief may still be available for tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic through the state’s reopened Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP). While ERAP funding has been exhausted, applications are again being accepted in case the federal government approves New York’s request for additional money.

Filing an application with ERAP would in most cases again pause the eviction process.

“But if the landlord is not asking for back rent and just wants to reclaim the premises, this emergency funding application should not apply,” Hooks said.

The pandemic caused considerable hardships for thousands of New Yorkers because of lost jobs or reduced hours. That’s why the eviction moratorium was first ordered by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Some 22 months later, landlords and lawyers will have stacks upon stacks of petitions ready to file when the courts reopen on Jan. 18.

“Now that there’s no COVID hardship declaration, landlords are free to pursue evictions as they were before,” said Ryan McCall, a lawyer with Tully Rinckey PLLC whose focus includes real estate. “Many tenants are far in arrears and landlords are saying, ‘We need to move forward in getting our investments back.’ ”

That means the courts will be busy. Very busy.

“There’s going to be a tidal wave of filings and I’m anticipating the administrative judge of the state of New York will be issuing some guidance,” Hooks said.

Lawyers said that the majority of landlords have recognized hardships suffered by many tenants. But some tenants, they say, took advantage of the situation.

“When tenants don’t pay and then they get a termination notice, they were saying, ‘Now I really don’t have to pay because I can’t be evicted,’ ” McCall said.

For some tenants, significant debts have amassed and collection may not be possible by the landlord, even with a judgment.

“Once a tenant goes behind two or three months, the chances of getting paid are minimal,” McCall said. “When you’re staring at four, five, six months in back rent, the only option is to get them evicted.”

Except the moratorium paused that process for nearly two years, and for the first 16 to 18 months of the pause, state and federal programs didn’t help landlords.

“They were kind of told, ‘Figure it out,’ ” McCall said.

The ERAP finally provided some help for landlords. When an application for rent relief was approved, money from the fund was sent to the landlord.

But corporate entities were much better positioned to collect than the mom-and-pop operations.

“The smaller landlords were left out in the cold with how to get ERAP funding,” McCall said.

Standard eviction petition regulations remain in effect. If a tenant has lived in a rental unit for less than a year, 30 days notice must be given. If the tenant has been a resident for one year but not more than two, a 60-day notice is required. For more than two years of occupancy, the tenant must be given a 90-day notice.

Pre-pandemic, the eviction process “from first filing to actual removal took 45 to 60 days,” Hooks said. “Now I’m anticipating it may take 90 days or more.”

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Robert D. Hooks