Activists and elected officials to Cuomo: sign Safe Harbor Act

Stephon Johnson | 7/2/2020, midnight
Housing activists and elected officials want New York State Gov. Cuomo to do them a solid and pass reform to ...
Apartments/housing Image by RealStash from Pixabay

Housing activists and elected officials want New York State Gov. Cuomo to do them a solid and pass reform to keep them home.

The groups are urging the governor to sign the NYS Tenant Safe Harbor Act, legislation which would stop landlords from evicting people who lost income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than 10,000 New Yorkers are at risk of imminent eviction. Organizations and elected officials are pushing Cuomo to stop it from happening.

Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of the civil law reform unit of The Legal Aid Society, called for the governor to enact the legislation to make sure families stay in their homes.

“This pandemic has already led to the loss of millions of jobs across the country. With unemployment rates skyrocketing, we must protect the most vulnerable of tenants in New York who will not be able to pay rent during this crisis,” stated Goldiner.

Members of the state legislature passed the Safe Harbor Act and delivered it to Cuomo’s desk on June 18. Tenants around the state, and particularly in New York City, have waited almost two weeks for Cuomo to put his official signature on the bill.

Requests for comment from Cuomo’s office were not granted by press time.

Meanwhile, other elected officials have put the pressure on Cuomo to act before rent is due.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented turmoil to the lives of millions of New Yorkers, many of whom are experiencing diminished income and increased expense as families struggle to keep themselves healthy and safe,” said Bronx-based New York State Assembly Member and Judiciary Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz. “The Tenant Safe Harbor Act will prevent a massive surge in homelessness by keeping families in their homes, families which have made incredible sacrifices over the past three months as they stay home for the benefit of public health.

“It is imperative that the governor signs this legislation into law,” concluded Dinowitz.

The governor, and tenants, did receive some good news. Cuomo’s eviction moratorium, which started on March 20 and was extended to Aug. 19 to allow tenants to use deposits to pay rent, survived a lawsuit from landlords this week.

Landlords from 66 Apartment Associates JV, Elmsford Apartment Associates LLC and 36 Apartment Associates LLC and 66 Apartment Associates JV (all in Westchester).sued Cuomo in federal court desiring to lift the moratorium on evictions. The parties declared that Cuomo letting tenants use their deposits to pay rent was a violation of their property rights, contract rights and overall due process. U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon ruled that the moratorium was constitutional.

Judge McMahon noted in her ruling that “it may be the case that the governor has overstepped his authority,” wrote McMahon in her decision but also stated that she “lacked the necessary jurisdiction necessary” to address any issues the plaintiffs had with state law.

Deborah Diamant, director of government relations and legal affairs at the Coalition for the Homeless, said that she hopes Cuomo acts before the July 1 deadline which was this past Wednesday.

“The Tenant Safe Harbor Act is a vital immediate measure to prevent widespread displacement in New York State as we continue to advocate for the federal government to provide rent assistance and other aid in sufficient amounts,” said Diamant. “The Tenant Safe Harbor Act recognizes that tenants, of which more than 32% statewide were already rent burdened prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, have suffered tremendous financial loss and personal upheaval during the past few months, and that our court system should not serve as a further destabilizing force in their lives.”