Written by Kerbie Joseph, ALP's Safe Outside the System Coordinator
Updated on June 3, 2020
Since the COVID-19 crisis, there are over 38 million unemployment applications. Millions of unemployed people are concerned about their rent, and the one-time stimulus check of $1,200 to documented workers who paid taxes in 2018 has run dry for many people. It is clear that as this pandemic and economic crisis escalate, it will be on the backs of poor and working-class people - on our backs. We understand that housing, food, and safety are human rights.
We wanted to share some information on housing rights and tenant organizing with our community in New York City. This information will continue to change, so check back for updates. If you are a low-income tenant and your landlord is threatening to evict you, you are entitled to a tenant attorney in NYC. You can find a lawyer by going to www.evictionfreenyc.org or by calling 718-557-1379.
FAQ on Tenant Rights During COVID-19 Pandemic
Can my landlord evict me for not paying rent?
- No tenant can be evicted for not paying rent until June 20th. Between June 20th and August 20th, Tenants who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 cannot be physically evicted. However, this moratorium on eviction applies only to tenants who can show they were financially impacted by COVID-19, for example by showing that you receive unemployment benefits. The New York state government has not yet clarified how you can show that you are financially impacted if you do not qualify for unemployment.
If I have COVID-19, can my landlord evict me or tell my neighbors I'm sick?
- Your landlord cannot evict you just because you are positive for COVID-19. Additionally, posting a notice identifying a person who contracted coronavirus would be considered discrimination unless necessary to protect others' health. Generally, there is no need to identify a person who has contracted the virus.
Can my landlord take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis by charging me more?
- Your landlord cannot participate in rent gouging by increasing rent to capitalize on the crisis. If you have a current lease, the landlord cannot increase your rent until it expires. If you are living in a rent-stabilized home, the landlord is limited in how much they can increase your rent. If your home is market rate, your landlord must provide you with advance written notice of any increase above 5 percent. Additionally, landlords cannot charge tenants late fees until August 20th.
Can my landlord sue me for non-payment?
- Between June 20th to August 20th, landlords cannot file non-payment cases for anyone who has been financially impacted by COVID-19. Also, a notice from your landlord is not an eviction. The landlord may send you rent demands or other letters threatening eviction, but these are just threats. Only a judge can evict you, and you have a right to fight this in court.
What if my landlord locked me out?
- If the locks have been changed on your door and you cannot get in, that is an illegal lockout. Call the housing court clerk in your borough or a legal services attorney for immediate help. Remember, only a judge can legally evict anyone - not your landlord, roommate, family member, lover, or partner - now or at any time.
Can my landlord sue me for other reasons to evict me?
- Right now, your landlord cannot start a "holdover case" against you (that means cases for reasons other than non-payment of rent, such as staying past a lease expiration or violating the lease). However, after June 20th, landlords will be able to file holdover cases against tenants, and marshals will be able to evict tenants in holdover cases.
My landlord is threatening to evict me. What do I do?
- In New York City, you have a right to a tenant attorney. There is a law that guarantees free legal representation to low-income people facing evictions in qualifying zip codes. You can find a lawyer by going to www.evictionfreenyc.org or by calling 718-557-1379.
Can my landlord pressure me to leave by making my life difficult?
- Your landlord cannot engage any action that interferes with or disturbs your comfort, privacy, or quiet enjoyment of your home to induce you to vacate or otherwise make you give up your rights. This is illegal harassment and you can sue your landlord for this in housing court, though there is not guaranteed representation for these cases. This includes discontinuing essential services that makes the space habitable, engaging in conduct that prevents your occupancy such as removing your possessions, or engaging in disruptive construction that interferes with your health and safety.
Is the housing court open?
- Some courthouses are closed, but the housing court is open for cases about emergency repairs, like illegal evictions, broken plumbing or no hot water. Your landlord is still responsible for repairs, even if you haven't paid rent, and should be reported to 311 if your landlord is not making repairs.
What do I do if marshals try to evict me?
- If Marshals try to evict you before June 20, call the Department of Investigations' Bureau of City Marshals at 212-825-5953. If you receive a Marshals notice after June 20, you should go to www.evictionfreenyc.org or call 718-557-1379 to request legal support to stop an eviction.
NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority) Residents: Check out this resource with detailed information specific to NYCHA.
Below are some highlights of NYCHA-specific information:
- When NYCHA residents lose full or partial income or receive unemployment benefits due to COVID-19 or any other circumstances, you should report the change in income to the management office. The rent should be decreased and will always be at 30% of the household income. If the household income is zero, the rent should be reduced to zero. Tell the management immediately and keep a record of your request.
- NYCHA has suspended all planned heat, hot water, and water outages until further notice.
- All residents are required to have safe, clean housing conditions. This includes working elevators, full repairs, and thoroughly disinfected and clean public spaces for residents to be safe.
- Threats and intimidation of eviction by NYCHA staff and management to NYCHA residents are illegal retaliation practices and should be reported.
If we cannot work during this pandemic, then we cannot pay rent during this pandemic! Join the statewide #CancelRent campaign calling on Cuomo to cancel the rent. Learn how to organize a rent strike by reviewing this rent strike toolkit.
How Can You Organize for Rent Strike in Your Building?
There is a statewide COVID-19 rent strike campaign to ask Governor Cuomo to cancel the rent, and this campaign is part of a nation-wide push to cancel rent payments. If you are interested in taking part, check out Going On Rent Strike in New York During COVID 19 Guide & Resources. This is a rent strike toolkit with sample petitions, rent strike demand letters, outreach flyers, and other useful materials. Here are some suggestions on how to begin organizing your neighbors:
- Start a text chat with neighbors in your building. If you don't already have your neighbors' numbers, you can slide fliers under their doors (with gloves on). Talk about the issues you're all facing with rent and repairs.
- Ask your neighbors if they are interested in joining a statewide campaign to call on Cuomo to cancel the rent. If they can pay rent, ask them if they are willing to join the rent strike in solidarity with their neighbors to apply additional pressure on the landlord.
- If you need repairs, organize with neighbors to write a group letter to your landlord to demand repairs.
- Sign this petition to suspend rent and mortgages.
- Share your videos and stories on social media with us at the Audre Lorde Project and to connect with other tenants organizing in their buildings.
Below are additional resources. Remember to check the date of publication and be aware that the information might be outdated. If you need legal support, reach out to an organization you trust or seek counsel.
- What to do if I can't pay rent because of COVID-19 – Published by Right to Counsel NYC Coalition on what to do if you cannot pay rent.
- Know Your Rights during COVID-19 – This is a guide published by Vision Change Win and National Lawyers Guild about your rights generally.
- NY Housing Updates: Eviction and Foreclosure Moratorium, COVID-19 Discrimination, NYCHA & Section 8 Rent Hardships – Information by the Municipal Employees Legal Services on COVID-19 and housing. This contains information specific to NYCHA and Section 8.
- Frequently asked questions on Tenant Rights – This is the Attorney General's guidance on coronavirus resources. This page can be helpful for understanding current law and policies.
- New York State's law on unlawful eviction – This is New York State's law on unlawful evictions.
- Information and resources for NYC tenants impacted by COVID-19 – This is New York City's information for NYC tenants affected by COVID-19. This information is updated frequently.
- Eviction Free NYC – En español. ¿Usted está enfrentando un desalojo? ¡Quizás tenga derecho a un abogado gratis. Aprenda cómo responder a una notificación de desalojo y conectarse con recursos que usted tiene a su disposición.
- Eviction Free NYC – Are you facing an eviction? You may have the right to a free lawyer. Learn how to respond to an eviction notice here.
- Legal Aid Society – The Housing Law Practice at Legal Aid Society offers legal services to prevent homelessness, including representing clients facing eviction in nonpayment and holdover proceedings in housing court. Puede obtener intérpretes en otro idiomas.