Homeowner Now Homeless Because of NY COVID Law


Shawna Eccles owns a house in Brooklyn, but she lives out of her Toyota.

The reason? New York’s Democratic legislature — which has long been hostile to landlords — passed a law during the coronavirus pandemic that prevents homeowners from evicting deadbeat tenants from their properties.

Eccles told the New York Post that her tenant has refused to pay rent for over seven months. But because Eccles still had to pay the mortgage, property tax and utilities on the home, she had nothing left over to cover her own housing needs.

“If anything gets cut off, it will be considered an illegal eviction,” she told the Post. “I have no additional funds to rent an apartment.”

In December, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020. This law imposed a moratorium on residential evictions until May 1, 2021, “for tenants who have endured COVID-related hardship,” according to the governor’s official website.

Missing 17-Year-Old Girl Found Dead After 'Devastating, Mind-Blowing' Discovery Next Door Brings Months-Long Search to an End

The legislation was presented to the public as a way to protect tenants who could not afford their rent because they had lost their jobs or had their wages cut due to pandemic-related shutdowns.

“This law adds to previous executive orders by protecting the needy and vulnerable who, through no fault of their own, face eviction during an incredibly difficult period for New York. The more support we provide for tenants … the easier it will be for them to get back on their feet when the pandemic ends,” Cuomo said in a statement on Dec. 28.

Should landlords be allowed to evict deadbeat tenants during COVID?

To be sure, New York experienced high rates of unemployment caused by the coronavirus shutdowns, and helping those in dire financial straits is a worthy thing to do.

But despite what Cuomo said for the cameras, the statute plainly was not tailored to serve just those who are “needy and vulnerable” or those who need help getting “back on their feet.”

Supported by left-wing lawmakers who believe that landlords are evil and that housing, among other things, should be free for everyone, the statute contains provisions that strip landlords of their property rights by forcing them to keep tenants on their property indefinitely without remuneration.

Under the law, tenants who want to stave off eviction need only present their landlords with a “hardship declaration” document explaining why paying rent in full or vacating the premises would create a “financial hardship.”

To establish a financial hardship, a tenant need only check off a box that one of the following categories applies:

Texas AG Sues Pfizer Over COVID Vaccine, Conspiracy to Censor Public Discourse
  • The tenant incurred a significant loss of household income during the pandemic.
  • The tenant had an increase in necessary out-of-pocket expenses related to performing essential work or related to health impacts during the pandemic.
  • The tenant’s caregiver responsibilities increased his or her “necessary out-of-pocket expenses” or “negatively affected” his or her ability to “obtain meaningful employment or earn income.”
  • Moving expenses made it difficult to relocate to another residence.
  • “Other circumstances” related to the pandemic “negatively affected” the tenant’s ability to earn income, significantly reduced the tenant’s household income or significantly increased the tenant’s expenses.

Separate from financial hardship, tenants also can dodge eviction by checking a box indicating that they have “an increased risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19 due to being over the age of 65, having a disability or having an underlying medical condition.”

The broad sweep of this legislation ensures that just about everyone qualifies under at least one of the predicate categories.

To begin, anyone over 65 has an automatic hardship. Same for those with “disabilities” and “medical conditions” — vague terms that bestow “hardship” onto vast swaths of the population.

The statute also exempts from rent anyone who attests that his or her “necessary out-of-pocket expenses” due to health increased. Since the degree to which those expenses increased is irrelevant, those who have purchased a facemask, hand sanitizer or antibacterial cleanser at some point during the pandemic qualify.

Similarly, tenants suffer a “financial hardship” if their caregiver responsibilities during the pandemic increased their out-of-pocket expenses. Anyone who has had to buy a jar of Skippy to make lunch for a child whose school went virtual at some point since March 2020 falls into this category.

And the “other circumstances” category is so expansively worded that it captures practically everyone else. In fact, illegal aliens, who can’t be evicted under the law, fare better than American citizen property owners like Shawna Eccles.

A hardship declaration is a hall pass that doesn’t take into consideration the tenant’s income level or means. Those with well-funded bank accounts can abuse the system and avoid their financial lease obligations by simply marking a box.

And they do so with the government’s blessing.

Indeed, while Eccles has been homeless and struggling to keep afloat, her freeloading tenant — who allegedly owes Eccles $14,700 in back rent — bought a new car and rejected offers of rental assistance made by the New York City Department of Social Services, according to the Post.

Worse, because the law stayed all eviction proceedings, landlords like Eccles have had no ability to challenge hardship declarations, and tenants have not been required to prove that they actually endured a hardship.

Even once the moratorium is lifted, the backlog of cases that piled up over the last year means that there will be months upon months of further delay before matters like Eccles’ can get a fair hearing. Due process is another casualty of this harebrained piece of legislation.

This law allows practically anyone to opt out of paying rent; it also creates no incentive for tenants to pay even if they can. As a result, landlords like Eccles who don’t own a lot of properties have been devastated financially. This has only made the economic crisis occasioned by the coronavirus worse.

In announcing this legislation, Cuomo said, “When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we asked New Yorkers to protect each other by staying at home. As we fight our way through the marathon this pandemic has become, we need to make sure New Yorkers still have homes to provide that protection.”

But as a consequence of this leftist law, many landlords have decided to keep their properties empty rather than risk taking on tenants who might game the system.

The result will be a housing shortage, which hardly advances the stated objective of ensuring that all New Yorkers have homes.

Democrat lawmakers in New York have created a mess. If only we could evict them.

Truth and Accuracy

Submit a Correction →

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

, , , , , , , ,
Ameer Benno is a constitutional law attorney. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 in New York's Fourth Congressional District, and he frequently appears on national television and radio to give legal and political commentary.
Ameer Benno is a constitutional law attorney. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 in New York's Fourth Congressional District, and he frequently appears on national television and radio to give legal and political commentary.