Stay of eviction

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 2/10/21

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — One night in 2019, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, almost 568,000 people nationwide were homeless. Ninety-two thousand were in New York; 13,000 …

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Stay of eviction

Posted

SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — One night in 2019, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, almost 568,000 people nationwide were homeless. Ninety-two thousand were in New York; 13,000 were in Pennsylvania.

A major reason for homelessness, the advocacy group says, is a lack of affordable housing.

National numbers aren’t available yet for 2020, but in Sullivan County, at least, homeless numbers are down. 

“We do know with certainty that homelessness in Sullivan County is well below what we normally see at this time of year (70 to 80 versus 130 to 150 in a more typical year),” Sullivan County’s Commissioner of Family Sevices, John Liddle, wrote in an email. “This is almost certainly due to the eviction moratorium.” 

No evictions

It makes sense. Those evicted can land in another apartment, but if they’re less lucky, it pushes them onto the street or into shelters. Living rough means they’re at high risk of catching COVID-19 and, without testing or treatment, could more easily pass it on. How do you quarantine when you live in a shelter? 

A law known as the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act (CEEFPA) was passed by the state legislature on December 28, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it the same day. 

Maureen Fox, chief development officer at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, explained CEEFPA in an email.

The newly extended moratorium, she wrote, applies to the following: 

• People who are behind in their rent or whose leases or tenancies have expired.

• Situations where moving would “pose a significant health risk because a member of the household has an increased risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.” 

• People experiencing certain types of financial hardship that make it impossible to pay full rent or move.

It isn’t just for tenants, though. Even landlords need help, especially when the renters can’t pay and that means the mortgage isn’t covered.  

“Many landlords are also experiencing financial hardship from the pandemic,” Liddle wrote. “Small landlords (10 units or less) are protected from foreclosure by the act just as tenants are, so that is, at least, buying everyone some time.”

Complex measure

But as the end of the moratorium crawls closer, it becomes imperative to know how many will be affected by the loss of it and in what way. Counties want to be prepared.

Unfortunately, it isn’t clear.

How many cases are pending in court? Liddle warned that “the numbers we’re gathering from court records... certainly underestimates the actual situation for several reasons.”

Landlords aren’t filing evictions that aren’t going to be dealt with any time soon. Why spend the money? 

And some prefer to work with tenants to develop payment plans. But it’s hard to get blood from a stone: “Much of the currently approved government relief is not necessarily going to be available to either party until there is an imminent risk of eviction—which doesn’t start in New York until May 1,” Liddle wrote. 

Payment plans are the best bet right now, even if it’s a small part of what’s owed. That’s because, if the tenant is doing his or her best (using expanded unemployment or stimulus money, for instance), the landlord is less likely to evict. And “it gives social services and the court system a better chance to help tenants stay in their homes.” 

Cases pending

That doesn’t always work, of course. 

“With help from Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV)... we know that 140 Sullivan County clients are getting legal assistance with eviction prevention,” Liddle wrote. “There are currently 60 pending cases in the town justice courts across Sullivan County.”

So, the county can expect its low homeless numbers to increase, although we don’t know by how much. That’s true across the Hudson Valley. “We are anticipating a major uptick in eviction proceedings once the moratorium is lifted,” said Fox. 

In the meantime, the best thing to do is to spread the word, she said. Help is out there. Try the LSHV website, which is in both English and Spanish.

 “It would also be helpful for individuals who are on social media to share the information there to their network,” Fox said. “So many of our clients come to us through word of mouth and referrals from their community.”

It matters. Behind the closed doors of some of those apartments are people in distress. Social workers are worried about rising depression and anxiety; requests for heating assistance funds are up, too. We’re still not close to our typical employment rate for this time of year. Eviction or foreclosure could be the straw that breaks the backs of struggling people. If you need non-legal help, contact the county’s community services department at 845/292-8770. If you need legal help, reach out to Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. “We are encouraging anyone who thinks they may be facing eviction to come to us now,” wrote Fox. “Individuals should not wait until they are removed from their home.”

And sometimes, people should be evicted, even during a moratorium.

They make other tenants’ lives miserable, they are threatening, they are not people you want to live near. How many of the evicted are like them is unknown, and during a moratorium, they can stay.

There are still legal pathways for landlords to evict bad tenants who are causing problems. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. Small landlords in this position should consult LSHV or an attorney.

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