Advocates have been raising rent alarm bells for 4 weeks. It's April and rents are due. So now what? The coronavirus relief package signed into law includes many provisions, such as enhanced unemployment benefits, one-time checks to households, and hundreds of billions for large and small businesses. But it doesn't mention the most significant expense for most Americans: Rent.
NY politicians and advocates have been raising rent alarm bells for 4 weeks. #FreezeRents. It's April 1st. The rent is due. So now what? We talk to Leah Goodridge Supervising Attorney for Mobilization for Justice about what #rentfreeze or #cancelrent really means. That full interview will air on #RepresentNYC next week but you can watch an some of it here:
The Governor announced a 90-day state moratorium on evictions for residential and commercial tenants and the City has already declared a temporary moratorium on residential evictions. But here is the fact, more than one-third of US households in NYC are paying more than they could afford and one month of rent can wipe out a bank account.
Efforts to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic have delivered a hammer blow to the economy. Millions of New Yorkers have filed for unemployment and are out of work. Many are sick, caring for someone sick or just home frightened and waiting for this to end. How are New Yorkers supposed to pay when so many have lost their jobs?
Federal, state and local governments have scrambled to enact policies to keep renters whose sources of income have disappeared from getting evicted in the immediate future while treading carefully around measures that could adversely affect landlords and the real estate market at large. So, lawmakers passed a corporate-friendly economic stimulus package last week to help mitigate the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, but renters could be in dire straits
Experts say these initial steps are nowhere near enough to protect low- and middle-income renters and handle what they say is the next biggest issue on legislators' plates after ensuring the stability of the health care system.
According to Forbes: Renters have some eviction protection, but only if they live in a multifamily building or single family home that has a federally backed mortgage. Landlords cannot evict tenants of these buildings or charge any late fees, penalties or other charges for late rent payments.
The oversight hasn't been lost on some lawmakers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that while state and local efforts to suspend evictions, like California's are welcome—the current crisis necessitates a rent moratorium.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden on Friday signaled support for three-month moratorium on rent. "There should be a rent freeze. No one should be evicted during this period," he said at a CNN town hall
Biden's rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), stressed the need for a rent freeze as well. Sanders wrote in a Saturday tweet that such a step was crucial "especially in states hardest-hit by the coronavirus like New York."
Some leading lawmakers, including the Brooklyn and Manhattan borough presidents and critical City Council members, have coalesced around a workable and sensible idea. If renters could pay their April rent with the security deposit put down when they signed the lease, an $8 billion stimulus would be created, while also keeping landlords whole.
Experts are clear, in the absence of financial aid, landlords could be looking at the possibility of a widespread rent strike. Leah Goodridge, supervising attorney at Mobilization for Justice said, "Renters need relief, and they needed it yesterday. Even if the federal government gave every U.S. citizen $1,200, we all know that’s not nearly enough to keep people afloat for the economic devastation ahead when factoring in the cost of housing, food and essential services. The average rent for an apartment in NYC is $3432. $1200 just doesn’t cut it."
What can you do:
Talk to your Landlord and try to work out your payments, but don't expect to be able to skip rent altogether, unless your landlord is extremely generous.
You may also have a grace period of several months to pay rent, and you may be entitled to special protection if you can show that the pandemic affected your finances. Here in NYC there has been a stay on evictions, so if you don't pay your landlord can't get a court date to have you evicted. But they can start the process.
The same goes for larger landlords and mortgage holders. If you're renting from the bank, call and see if they will defer payments. Bank of America and Citi have said they would defer payments for mortgage borrowers who call and ask for help, while Wells Fargo has said it would suspend foreclosures, evictions and auto repossessions for an unspecified time period.
Should you rent strike? While deferring rent for several weeks of months is undoubtedly helpful, many say it doesn't go far enough. If you hold back your rent, a strike means keeping the money aside to pay at a later time.
Landlord could also report your overdue rent to a credit reporting agency. This can affect your credit rating and make it harder in the future for you to rent a place or get a loan.
Put your case in writing: Declare, in writing, the reason you cannot pay your rent.
Ask for a reduction or extension, a few landlords have reduced rent or waived it outright, recognizing the massive upheaval in the economy. Here’s a link for a sample letter to ask your landlord to lower rent. Simply fill in the information for sections in brackets
State Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced a bill to suspend rent and mortgage payments for 90 days, which has 21 co-sponsors in the state legislature. "Tenants can't pay rent if they can't earn a living. Let's #CancelRent for 90 days to keep people in their homes during the #coronavirus crisis," Gianaris said on Twitter.
A group called Rent Strike 2020 is organizing on the national level. "Our demands to every Governor, in every state, are extremely simple: freeze rent, mortgage and utility bill collection for 2 months, or face a rent strike," Rent Strike 2020's website states.-
Still have questions? Here are the organizations to reach out to:
The agencies tasked with oversight of NYC’s rental apartments are the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the state’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal (DHCR). Each one has its own guide to tenants’ rights during the coronavirus pandemic: HPD, HCR.
Legal Aid Society provides legal assistance to tenants embroiled in fights in Housing Court, but who cannot afford representation. Housing Court Answers also has a hotline for questions during this time.
Housing Justice For All is the advocacy group working on current calls to implement a rent, mortgage, and utility suspension for the duration of the pandemic.
If you have questions related to paying rent during quarantine or hospitalization due to COVID-19, you can contact the Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants by filling out the Contact form.