What NYC renters need to know during the coronavirus pandemic

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DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Should I move? What if I’m diagnosed with COVID-19? And more
questions about renting right now, answered

Aside from taking care of their health and staying at home
during the
COVID-19 pandemic
, there’s a looming worry among New York
City’s renters: What happens on April 1?

For many tenants, that’s the next date that rent is due—but
if people are out of work or have lost other sources of income as a
result of the pandemic, they may be worried about being able to pay
rent. Other New Yorkers who were planning on moving at the
beginning of the month are now facing uncertainty over whether
movers are deemed “essential,” or if it’s even safe to move
to a new apartment at all.

There have been some silver linings: Following a push from
housing advocates, the state implemented a
moratorium on evictions
indefinitely due to the pandemic early
this week (though some aspects of the policy still
lack clarity
). And Housing Justice for all, a coalition of
tenant’s rights advocates, has called for a
statewide rent freeze
—a proposal that led to a
bill
from State Sen. Michael Gianaris, which would suspend rent
payments for 90 days for residential tenants and small businesses
facing financial hardships.

Still, there are many uncertainties for renters during this
time—below find answers to some of the most pressing questions
tenants might have right now, from if moving is even possible to
your rights if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19.

Do you have more questions about renting, or an experience you
want to share? Email us at tips@curbed.com.

I’m supposed to move on April 1. Am I still allowed to do that?

According to a spokesperson in Cuomo’s office, moving
companies are deemed essential under the PAUSE executive order—so
you can, under the current guidance, hire a mover if you need
one.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s prudent right now. “It
is clear that the governor’s executive order requires people to
stay at home,” says Ellen Davidson, staff attorney at the Legal
Aid Society. “To the extent people can stay where they are, that
they are safe where they are, everyone should stay put.”

You would also need to coordinate a move with the landlord or
manager of both the building you’re leaving, and the one you’re
moving into—and they may not be amenable to facilitating a
move.

Still, some movers are still providing services. Seka Moving,
which has offices in Manhattan and Brooklyn, requested and received
an individual authorization from the state to keep operating. Serik
Baim, the company’s CEO, told Curbed that its office staff is
working from home and only crew members, truck drivers, and foremen
are working at its main location with gloves and masks.

What if my lease is expiring at the end of the month?

“It would seem rational for landlords to work with their
tenants to keep things as normal as possible, and to keep things in
place as much as possible, so that no one needs to leave their
apartments in the middle of a health crisis,” says Davidson.
“Landlords and tenants should work together to figure out how
people can remain in their apartments while this crisis is going
on.”

Month-to-month leases could be one solution, if a tenant and a
landlord can come to an agreement for the duration of the pandemic
and then decide what happens once the crisis comes to an end. Such
an agreement should ideally be made over email, Davidson says.

Some property owners have reached similar agreements with their
tenants: Brokerage MNS has worked with developers like Moinian and
Slate Property Group to allow tenants of certain buildings to
continue on month-by-month leases until the crisis is over,
according to Andrew Barrocas, the CEO of the brokerage. “The goal
is to assure that residents have a place to stay and minimize the
need to go outside to search for apartments,” says Barrocas.

Jessica Swersey, an agent with Warburg Realty, has had similar
experiences with her clients. “If the landlord has not re-rented
the unit, they are being very flexible in allowing a month-to-month
extension,” she says. “I also have renters that need to move
April 1, and are hitting roadblocks of inability to access
apartments or current tenants extending, or buildings that are not
allowing any move-ins and move-outs.”

What if I live in a rent-stabilized apartment?

Those living in rent-regulated apartments
can renew their leases
for a one- or two-year term, with a few
exceptions. But for rent-stabilized tenants who had plans to break
a lease, “landlords can provide early termination agreements to
allow for a lease break later in the summer,” says Iliana
Acevedo, a new development manager at MNS.

Whether or not the city’s nearly 1 million rent-stabilized
apartments will see hikes this year is still up in the air, and at
the discretion of the Rent Guidelines Board (RGB), which determines
if rents should be frozen, increased, or rolled back. The decision
follows a public hearing process that typically begins in the
spring. Right now, it’s unclear what those hearings will look
like because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What if I have an issue with my apartment—something breaks, or I
need an urgent repair?

Under the new PAUSE order, workers like electricians or plumbers
are listed as essential, along with “other related construction
firms and professionals for essential infrastructure or for
emergency repair and safety purposes.” So if you have a serious,
emergency issue with your apartment, contact your landlord for
help.

But if your landlord is not responding to an urgent request for
repairs, you do have recourse: Housing courts are still handling
emergency situations, according to Davidson, including a tenant
being illegally locked out or a landlord ignoring an urgent repair
order. You can also call a hotline run by
Housing Court Answers
, which offers advice and resources for
those without attorneys.

What should I do if my landlord serves me with an eviction notice?

Tenants should not be getting eviction notices at the
moment—though, through
a sort of loophole
, landlords were able to file new eviction
cases against tenants as recently as last week. But under Cuomo’s
recent executive order, “courts are not allowing landlords to
start cases which would end up with tenants being served with
notices of petition, the court papers which start the case.”

Tenants may still be issued with a rent demand, but not a notice
of petition or actual court papers. “These proceedings are not
considered emergency or essential, and so neither the landlords nor
their processors are allowed to be out and serving these notices so
it ought not happen, because it’s actually against the
governor’s executive order,” says Davidson.

If you do get served an eviction notice, contact the Department
of Investigation’s Bureau of City Marshals
. And keep in mind
that even if the notice asks you to show up in person, you do not
have to show up to housing court.

“If they don’t answer in person no harm will come to them,
it will not impact the case that will eventually be brought against
them, because no cases—unless they’re very specific
emergencies—are being allowed to move forward in housing
court,” says Davidson.

Can my landlord raise my rent right now?

If you currently have a lease in effect, “that lease
governs,” Davidson says. But if you’re at the end of the lease
or a month-to-month tenant, a rent increase is still possible
(which is one reason why advocates are pushing for a rent freeze
right now).

Under the new rent laws, renters should get notice if landlords
intend to raise their rent by more than 5 percent. If the tenant
has lived in the apartment for up to one year, they should get 30
days notice; if they’ve lived there for up to two years, they
should get 60 days notice; and if it’s been more than two years,
they should get 90 days notice.

What if I’m diagnosed with COVID-19? What are my rights as a
tenant?

The Mayor’s Office to Protect Tenants created
a guide
that addresses some critical issues during the COVID-19
pandemic, including what tenants should know if they’re diagnosed
with the disease. “Your landlord cannot evict you, kick you out,
or ask you to leave your apartment for having COVID-19,”
according to the guidelines—and the same goes if you’re under
quarantine at home, or if you’re experiencing harassment or
discrimination for other reasons. If any of those things are
happening, the office suggests contacting the NYC Commission on
Human Rights to file
a report.

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
What NYC renters need to know during the coronavirus pandemic