As COVID-19 transforms New York City, public health orders at the city, state, and federal levels have been put in place to protect renters and homeowners and help everyone stay in their homes during these uncertain times. Both market-rate and rent-stabilized renters are affected by recent stopgap changes to NYC housing laws, particularly those who have lost or are at risk of losing their jobs due to the pandemic. Here’s a running list of COVID-19 protections for renters and owners in New York and New Jersey. Keep in mind, this is not a comprehensive list — but we’re doing our best.

Disclaimer: This post reflects the latest news and industry status at the time of publication. It will be monitored and updated as the COVID-19 situation changes. Above all, prioritize your health and safety and that of your fellow New Yorkers.

Table of Contents

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    List of Updates: COVID-19 Protections for Renters and Homeowners in NYC

    On December 6, 2021, Governor Hochul introduced The New York State Homeowner Assistance Fund. It is a $539M federally funded program, the first in the nation, dedicated to assisting homeowners at risk of displacement or foreclosure as a direct result of a financial hardship caused by the pandemic.

    In September 2021, the eviction moratorium was extended. Renters in New York State, including New York City, will have protection from evictions until at least Jan. 15, 2022.

    On August 6, 2021, a bill extending New York’s eviction moratorium until October 31, 2021, was introduced by lawmakers. At this time, the state’s eviction moratorium is set to expire on August. 31, 2021.

    As of June 1, 2021, New York State’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program is open for applications. The program covers up to one year, 12 months, of rental arrears, starting after March 13, 2020. Renters looking for assistance must meet qualifications that include earning less than 80% of an area’s median income, experiencing a reduction in income on or after March 13, 2020, and can provide proof of residency and identity. The program is open to all New Yorkers regardless of immigration status. For more details and to apply, view the application or call the assistance hotline at 844-691-7368.

    On May 3, 2021, lawmakers in New York State extended the COVID-19 eviction moratorium to the end of August 2021. The protections cover both residential and commercial tenants struggling with pandemic-related, financial hardships. By the end of the extension, the state plans to announce a rent relief program using more than $2 billion in emergency funding from the federal government. Please refer to COVID-19 updates on the New York State website.

    On January 20, 2021, the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 was extended to May 1, 2021, for tenants experiencing COVID-related hardships. Renters are required to submit a hardship declaration. Not submitting the document may result in eviction. Also, landlords can now evict tenants who are creating health or safety hazards for other residents. NYC’s Tenant Resource Portal provides the latest updates.

    The ACT also provides extended protections for homeowners and landlords who own up to 10 residential dwellings. Residential foreclosures are on pause until May 1, 2021, for those who file a hardship declaration with their mortgage lenders.

    Below recaps the protections that took place in 2020. You will also find some helpful advice.

    On December 12, 2020, Governor Cuomo announced the Covid Rent Relief Program’s reopening, which includes expanded eligibility criteria. The New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), is accepting applications from New York households through Monday, February 1, 2021. You will find a handy calculator on the site for determining eligibility.

    Can you still be evicted? The short answer is no.

    Pending eviction cases as of December 28, 2020, are suspended until at least February 26, 2021. Eviction cases commencing from December 29, 2020, to January 27, 2021, are also suspended for at least 60 days. Are you a respondent in a pending case? You can’t be evicted when a case is suspended.

    Governor Cuomo once again extended the ban on evictions. The new date is December 31, 2020. City marshals are not allowed to serve new or outstanding evictions at this time. If you have been served an eviction notice in NYC, contact the Department of Investigation’s Bureau of City Marshals or visit the New York City Tenant Resource Portal. The latter is a new initiative launched by NYC to help residents stabilize their housing situation. FYI, egregious housing-code violations and repair orders will proceed through the court system as usual.

    On Monday, March 16, the New York State court system suspended all “non-essential” matters until further notice. This included housing court cases, eviction proceedings, and pending eviction orders statewide for both residential and commercial units. In late June, housing courts partially reopened.

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    Governor Cuomo announced on March 20 that New York State would add a moratorium on evictions from all commercial and residential properties. On May 7, the moratorium on residential (and commercial) evictions was extended to Aug. 20 for tenants who are eligible for unemployment insurance or who are “otherwise facing financial hardship” due to COVID-19. 

    Governor Cuomo also ordered that tenants be allowed to use their security deposit to cover their rent. The deposits must be repaid within 90 days of use, and if the deposit is less than the amount of rent owed, tenants must cover the difference. Finally, the governor also nixed late fees on rent payments.

    As of June 30, The Tenant Safe Harbor Act has been signed into law, strengthening protections for renters.

    On July 14, the statewide COVID Rent Relief Program was unveiled with applications starting on July 16. Qualifying tenants will receive a one-time rental subsidy paid directly to landlords. Household income must be below 80% of the area median income.

    What If I Can’t Pay My Rent? What Happens?

    What happens if you can’t pay your rent? First, understand that due to COVID-19, New York and New Jersey have put into place many protections for renters, as listed above. Under the New York state order, evictions have been suspended to October 1, 2020. More renter protections are currently under consideration in Albany.

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    OK, but what are the actual consequences of not paying your rent? Unfortunately, the consequences for nonpayment could be major, especially if the matter goes to court.

    According to NYC housing attorney Samuel J. Himmelstein, an immediate consequence would come if or when your landlord reported you to credit agencies. “Your credit score could go way down if you don’t pay, creating additional housing and financial issues in the future,” he says.

    It’s also important to remember that your rental lease is a legal contract, in which you have agreed to pay every month. Breaking that contract comes with legal ramifications.

    If you don’t pay your rent, a landlord would typically serve you with a 14-day rent demand, Himmelstein says. The landlord could then take you into court for a summary eviction proceeding. You would likely have to appear, answer the court papers, and state a defense. The case would then go before a judge. “Usually a payment plan is agreed to, and if the tenant doesn’t comply, they could be evicted,” Himmelstein says.

    Due to COVID-19, housing courts are not open right now, except for emergencies, and Himmelstein says they are not likely to reopen for months. However, court action could be taken when they reopen. Also, an eviction notice could be served to you as soon as the state suspension lifts in June.

    “The statute of limitations on a landlord taking a tenant to court for non-payment is six years,” Himmelstein says. “So you could end up with a money judgment and a possessory judgment,” which is where you’re required to pay back a certain amount of rent owed. Those can last for 20 years.

    If you don’t pay the amount in the possessory judgment, you could be evicted. If you don’t satisfy the money judgment, the landlord could garnish up to 10% of your wages, freeze and empty your bank accounts, or place a lien on any real property you might own, according to Himmelstein.

    Note that New York state and city officials are considering an array of proposals to provide relief to renters having trouble paying their rent due to COVID-19. Read more about some of the proposals.

    Disclaimer: None of the above is meant to constitute legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.


    Can My Landlord Force Me to Show My Apartment to Prospective Renters?

    One question many New Yorkers are facing is whether a landlord can force a tenant to show an apartment to applicants in the middle of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t totally clear. But NYC housing lawyer Samuel J. Himmelstein revealed how a tenant should handle the scenario.

    “The first thing you have to do is read the lease and see if the lease says that the landlord is entitled to have access to show the apartment,” he told StreetEasy. “If it doesn’t have that clause, then there’s no obligation.”

    But most leases do have that clause. So, what then? First, it’s important to understand the landlord’s rights pre-COVID-19.

    “In ordinary circumstances, the landlord could bring an eviction proceeding against you — called ‘a no access hold over’ — if you don’t grant access for things like repairs, inspections, and showings. But they can’t do that now, because the courts are closed and will be closed at least until June, if not July.”

    Another option, according to Himmelstein, is that the landlord could go through the Supreme Court to get an injunction that would force a tenant to grant access immediately. “But, again, the courts are only hearing emergency cases, and a showing would not qualify as an emergency.”

    You might then ask, “Well, could my landlord just use his key?” The answer to that is perfectly clear: no! “It would be illegal for the landlord to use his key for a routine visit or showing,” said Himmelstein. “They have to give prior notice, it has to be in writing, and you have to give permission.”


    What a Tenant Could Say to a Landlord Who Wants to Show the Unit

    With all of that in mind, Himmelstein suggested what a tenant should do in such a scenario. “I recommend a tenant respond in writing, saying, ‘I’m not going to give access because I have an underlying health condition that could put me at risk if people enter the apartment. Or just, ‘I don’t think it follows social distancing guidelines.’ You can refuse.” Obviously, you should be truthful in any such letter, but if you do have real concerns about your health, you can state them clearly.

    However, to show you are trying to be amenable during this confusing time, consider adding an alternative in your response if you are comfortable and able. “The tenant should suggest that he or she can take a video of the apartment and send it to the landlord for prospective applicants,” said Himmelstein. Then it looks like the tenant is offering a practical solution.”

    Ultimately, you don’t have to permit a showing. Worst case scenario is the landlord could sue for damages later (for example, if it took two months longer to rent the apartment). But it’s not likely.

    “Most leases have an attorney’s fees clause, which allows the prevailing party in any litigation to recover attorney’s fees,” said Himmelstein. “If the tenant wins, the landlord would have to pay their legal fees. That’s a lot of risks for a landlord to take on for a few thousand dollars.”

    Bottom line: You don’t have to show your apartment right now, and your landlord might be mad about it. But this is uncharted territory where health and safety come first.


    What If I Need Help With Utilities?

    Con Edison has suspended service shutoffs to its service area, which comprises NYC and Westchester county. Meanwhile, National Grid, the electric provider for other parts of NYC as well as upsate, has suspended collections activities and service disconnections through at least the end of April.


    What If I Live in NYCHA Housing?

    Efforts are underway to help New Yorkers who live in NYCHA buildings and who are suffering hardships from coronavirus fallout pay their rent. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s declaration of a state of emergency means that the New York City Housing Authority has extended the rent-hardship relief program to all affected households. To apply for help, visit the NYCHA self-service portal or call your property management office to request a form.

    To qualify for a NYCHA rent reduction, you must have at least a 5% reduction to your gross income; your current rent must be more than 30% of your net household income; and the reduction in your income must have lasted at least two months.


    Is My Building Taking the Pandemic Seriously Enough?

    Many residential buildings in NYC have canceled resident events and have limited or outright banned access to shared building amenities such as gyms, pools, and roof decks. Many buildings have increased the frequency and quality of their janitorial services, too.

    The nonprofit Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums has addressed many questions and concerns regarding what protocols buildings should follow in response to COVID-19. The organization details steps buildings can take to ensure staff and resident safety, such as using EPA-approved disinfectant, providing hand-sanitizer dispensers and other preventative supplies to staff, and requiring staff to stay home if they are showing symptoms. It also advises on how to proceed if a resident tests positive for COVID-19.

    There are other tactics a building might take to fight the spread of coronavirus as well. In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Dr. Joseph G. Allen, director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, touts proper ventilation.

    “Bringing in more outdoor air in buildings with heating and ventilation systems helps dilute airborne contaminants, making infection less likely,” he says in the piece. Buildings tend to recirculate some of their air, meaning that contaminated air in one area can be spread to others. Portable air purifiers with HEPA filters can be effective in capturing contaminated particles, Allen says.

    If you are concerned that your building is not doing enough to keep you safe, you can call 311 to file a complaint. You can also call the Met Council on Housing’s Tenants’ Rights Hotline at (212) 979-0611.


    COVID-19 Protections for Homeowners in New York

    Hardship relief is also a possibility for many homeowners with mortgage payments. Reach out to your individual loan supplier for details.

    Governor Cuomo has announced a 90-day mortgage relief program for owners throughout New York State, including the waiving of mortgage payments based on financial hardship incurred as a result of the pandemic. However, Cuomo’s plan does not include mortgage forgiveness, though there are calls for automatic forgiveness of all owed payments. Instead, it involves “adjusting the mortgage to include those payments on the back end, with no late fees or online payment fees.”

    On a federal level, as of March 18, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) ordered Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to suspend foreclosures for at least 60 days. In addition, the FHFA said that mortgage payments backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can be suspended for up to 12 months if the homeowner has lost income as a result of COVID-19.

    And as of March 23, the FHFA has extended the suspension of foreclosures and evictions to owners of both single-family and multifamily homes backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. It has offered those property owners mortgage forbearance if they agree to cease evictions for renters unable to make their rent.


    COVID-19 Protections for New Jersey Residents

    As in New York, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has also temporarily halted evictions and foreclosures on residential property. Under Murphy’s executive order, landlords and banks can still pursue evictions and foreclosures during this time, but they are powerless to carry them out until the order has been lifted.

    As for rent, “This Order does not affect any schedule of rent that is due.” Meaning that at this time, there is no rent suspension in New Jersey. Similarly, there are no current plans in place to help landlords who would lose revenue as a result of the eviction and foreclosure plan.

    During a recent press conference, Murphy urged New Jersey banks and lenders to “do what they can for their mortgage customers to make loan repayment much more flexible in coming weeks and months.” But as of publication time, no law is on the books for New Jersey mortgage relief.


    What If I Have Concerns About COVID-19 and Housing Discrimination?

    The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, family status, sex and disability. Many state and local laws also protect other classes, such as sexual orientation, gender identity and source of lawful income.

    We spoke with Rachel Wainer Apter, director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, for more on what renters and landlords should know about fair housing laws in New Jersey and elsewhere during COVID-19. (Read more of our conversation on the Zillow Group blog.)

    “Under the NJ Law Against Discrimination (LAD), which we at the Division on Civil Rights enforce, a disability is defined broadly and would include someone who is ill from COVID-19,” Wainer Apter says. “The LAD also prohibits discrimination against anyone who is perceived to have a disability, including COVID-19.”

    “For example, it would be illegal under the LAD for a landlord to ask a tenant to move out because they have COVID-19 or because the landlord believes they have COVID 19. In addition, a landlord or building manager could not refuse to make necessary repairs to an apartment based on a suspicion that a tenant had COVID-19 because she is Asian.

    The LAD does not prohibit a landlord from taking reasonable steps to protect the landlord or other tenants from COVID-19. But those steps cannot be based on stereotypes or actual or perceived race, national origin or disability. With the economic hardships associated with COVID-19, there may also be more people relying on temporary rental assistance to pay rent. In New Jersey, those individuals cannot be evicted or otherwise discriminated against because of the source of income that they are using to make rental payments.”


    Where to Find Out More

    While federal fair housing protections are consistent across the country, many states, cities and counties provide additional fair housing protections. In New York, you can file a fair housing complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights. You can also report housing discrimination with Attorney General’s office by calling 212-416-8250. Learn more about COVID-19 and housing protections.

    In New Jersey, you can file a housing discrimination complaint via a statewide hotline: 866-405-3050. The state’s Department of Civil Rights has detailed information about protections specific to COVID-19, including frequently asked questions.

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