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New York court system delays evictions until at least Oct. 1

August 13, 2020 David Brand
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The New York state court system has delayed evictions until at least Oct. 1, while imposing mandatory conferences in all cases filed before a mid-March moratorium took effect, including cases where an eviction warrant has been issued.

In a Wednesday directive to court personnel, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks temporarily halted evictions in cases filed or adjudicated before March 17, the first full day of a statewide eviction suspension, while forcing landlords and tenants to first conference with a judge before “any further proceedings” can continue.

“No residential eviction may take place prior to October 1, 2020 or — in the event of a future state or federal moratorium on evictions — such later date or dates set forth in law,” Marks wrote in the order.

Marks’ order also extends the suspension of eviction proceedings in cases filed on or after March 17 until further notice.

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The directive clarifies lingering uncertainty about how Housing Courts will proceed in New York City in the days since a state eviction moratorium expired Aug. 4. Trials have resumed in Brooklyn and Staten Island Housing Court, with trials set to restart in Queens in the second week of September.

New York City has identified about 14,000 tenants who were at-risk of becoming homeless this month because their cases were adjudicated before the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the state court system and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to halt evictions.

The mandatory status or settlement conferences for all residential cases that began before March 17 may also have the effect of further delaying or avoiding evictions.

During the mandatory conferences, judges will review the history of the case and the impact of COVID-19 on landlords and tenants, the order states. Judges can also refer tenants to pro bono legal services and assess specific relief available, including tenants’ eligibility for the New York Tenant Safe Harbor Act, a measure that allows renters to resist eviction if they prove they were financially impacted by COVID-19.

“Following the conference, the court may take such further steps as it deems appropriate, including allowing the matter to proceed,” the order states.

The directive seems to provide judges with broad discretion to stay cases, said Sateesh Nori, the head of Legal Aid’s Queens Housing Court unit. Nori said the eviction delay, the mandatory conferences and the significant authority granted to judges were all “encouraging” aspects of the administrative order.

“I think the average judge would be willing to entertain the circumstances of the individual cases, and that’s a big deal,” he said.

In the past, judges may have had their hands tied and struggled to find legal precedent to halt an eviction, no matter the circumstances, he said. The language of the order gives judges authority to delay or halt evictions, he said.

“I think there are many, many judges who would be able to hang their hats on this language and do what they want to do as human beings, which is not evict people right now,” he said.

Landlord lawyers are less enthusiastic about the new order, which will prevent them from evicting tenants who have not paid rent for months.

“This latest order only continues to demonstrate that landlords are stymied at every turn by various directives (politically) aimed and designed to forestall a landlord’s ability to enforce his contractual rights,” said attorney Nativ Winiarsky in an email.

Winiarsky, a partner in the law firm Kucker Marino Winiarsky & Bittens LLP, said the Office of Court Administration has gone “far beyond” eviction moratorium orders issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo’s latest order, issued earlier this month, deferred to the court system on establishing a new moratorium or allowing landlords to execute evictions.

“This is an action unilaterally taken by OCA that I believe is contrary to the intentions of Governor Cuomo’s prior orders,” Winiarsky said in an email. “It seems to me that this is an improper push by the judicial branch to take on a quasi-legislative role.”

The administrative order also states that Housing Court proceedings “should” take place remotely.

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