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Hochul calls back lawmakers to extend eviction moratorium, approve cannabis officials

Gov. Kathy Hochul, wearing red, between the U.S. and New York State flags
New York NOW

Democrats in New York will return to Albany Wednesday to extend the state’s eviction moratorium, confirm officials to lead the state’s marijuana legalization roll-out, and approve changes to the state’s open meetings law, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday evening.

A deal was struck between Democrats who control the state Legislature and Hochul over extending the moratorium and amending it after part of it was struck down in court.

"The fact is that we are not out of the pandemic yet, as much as we hoped," Hochul said. "We are not going to allow people through no fault of their own ... to face eviction.”

New York’s eviction moratorium, which was created to prevent tenants from being evicted due to financial hardship during the pandemic, was set to expire Tuesday, leaving thousands of tenants at risk of losing their homes in the coming weeks.

Hochul said that, as the deadline approached, her team had worked with leaders from the state Legislature through the weekend on an extension, which is set to be approved Wednesday.

Not only is the Legislature expected to extend the moratorium through Jan. 15, 2022 — they’re also set to make changes to the law to comply with a recent ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought by landlords challenging the measure.

In its decision, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that landlords would have to be afforded due process to rebut claims from their tenants that they had experienced financial hardship.

Under the current law, tenants are able to declare a financial hardship to avoid being evicted, but landlords aren’t allowed to challenge it. Lawmakers are expected to change that Wednesday by allowing landlords to question a tenant’s financial situation in court.

While tenants would be safe from immediate eviction under the legislation expected to be approved Wednesday, Hochul also repeated that those affected could apply to the state for rental assistance.

That assistance protects tenants from eviction for up to a year after they’re approved for the program, and pays their landlords directly for rent they can’t afford to pay.

Landlords across the state have been opposed to extending the moratorium, saying protections now exist for tenants who can’t pay their rent, and that it’s no longer necessary, given the state’s trajectory toward economic recovery.

“The economy is open and running, people are back to work, vaccines are available, employers are hiring, there are billions of dollars in rental assistance, stimulus checks have been sent, it's time to get back to business," said Lisa Damiani, who represents a coalition of property owners from Western New York.

Gov. Kathy Hochul talks to reporters about why she has called back legislators

Hochul said lawmakers are also expected to confirm her nominees to lead the state’s marijuana legalization rollout.

"To jump start the long overdue decisions pertaining to establishing cannabis in the State of New York, I'll be appointing my nominations to start the process to legally produce and distribute cannabis in the State of New York," Hochul said." There is no reason why simple announcements in terms of who the executive director is and who the chair person is were not done in time."

When lawmakers approved legislation to legalize marijuana in New York this year, the new law required the governor to appoint two individuals to lead both a state Office of Cannabis Management, and a governing body called the Cannabis Control Board.

Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo didn’t select those individuals before he left office, despite having five months to do so between the law’s approval and his resignation. That’s put New York’s timeline for retail sales in limbo.

Hochul said she’s chosen her nominees, but didn’t say who they’d be. The Senate is expected to consider, and likely approve, both of them Wednesday.

The state Open Meetings Law, which ensures that meetings of public entities are open and accessible to the public, is also expected to be amended temporarily, Hochul said. She did not provide details when asked what would change, but she said the change was in response to conversations she's had with leaders across the state.

"We need to amend the Open Meetings Law to make meetings more accessible, more safe, including those with disabilities across the state," she said.

Because Hochul is calling lawmakers back into what’s called “extraordinary session,” she’s able to limit what they consider on the floor. Lawmakers won’t be able to act on other outstanding items.

WBFO's Mike Desmond contributed to this story.