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Cuomo signs eviction moratorium extension

Saying the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic aren’t over, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday signed a measure passed by the New York State Legislature that extends a moratorium on evictions through Aug. 31.

"As we approach the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, it is critical that we continue to protect both New York's tenants and business owners who have suffered tremendous hardship throughout this entire pandemic," Cuomo said. "Extending this legislation will help to ensure that vulnerable New Yorkers and business owners who are facing eviction through no fault of their own are able to keep their homes and businesses as we continue on the road to recovery and begin to build back our economy better than it was before."

Opponents said the measure doesn’t do enough to help landlords and should end earlier.

The protections for tenants and small landlords ended May 1. Under the extension, renters can continue through August to cite economic hardship caused by the pandemic as a reason for not paying their rent. The measure also continues a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures for landlords.

There are penalties for those who misrepresent their financial situation.

Supporters said it’s needed because many New Yorkers are still struggling financially. Sen. Robert Jackson, who represents a district that includes the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, said his constituents have been hit hard by the pandemic and are still “digging out.”

“I have tens of thousands of residents, tenants, that are struggling to survive,” Jackson said.

Senate sponsor Brian Kavanagh, also from Manhattan, said even though infection rates are going down and the number of vaccinated New Yorkers is rising, the pandemic's effects aren’t over, and preventing evictions helps stem the spread of the virus.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” said Kavanagh, who added the bill’s “principle purpose is a public health measure to prevent all of us from getting sick and extending this pandemic unnecessarily.”

Opponents, including many Republicans in the Senate, argue that the moratorium should end sooner.

Sen. Pamela Helming of Canandaigua said the federal Centers for Disease Control recommends that the tenant protections should end June 30. And Cuomo said the state will largely be reopening on May 19.

Helming said extending the measure further only delays a looming housing crisis, and will “kick this can down the road” and lead people to go further into debt.

Sen. Anthony Palumbo, from Long Island, said the measure does not provide enough protections for landlords.

Palumbo said when the current measure runs out, tenants will have to pay back the rent money that they owe. He said many might not have those resources. Landlords, however, hold the deeds to the properties, and if the lack of rent causes them to miss mortgage payments, they will end up in foreclosure.

He said the landlords he represents are not the multimillionaire and billionaire “big, bad landlords,” but people who purchased two- or three-unit buildings.

“Those are the folks who rely on that income from small commercial mixed-use buildings for their retirement,” said Palumbo, who added some used their life savings to purchase the property.

Palumbo and others who voted against the measure said the state’s tenants and landlords would benefit more from the $2.4 billion in federal rental assistance relief approved in March. But they said the state has been slow to distribute those funds.

Kavanagh said he thinks once those funds are distributed, the majority of the back payments will be made.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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