Guidance on Coronavirus Resources and Warnings about Consumer Scams

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Guidance on Coronavirus Resources and
Warnings about Consumer Scams

As New York continues to experience an outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it is imperative that individuals are prepared and informed during this time. In addition to health information, New Yorkers must know about their rights, the resources available to them, and be mindful about potential consumer scams related to COVID-19.

You can find more information on resources, rights, and potential scams from the drop down menu below:

Consumer Protection Tips & Scam Alerts

Bogus Medical Treatments

Beware of Phishing Attempts Purporting Emergency COVID-19 Information

For Healthcare Workers and Providers

Bogus Medical Treatments

  • Beware of scammers selling bogus medical treatments and learn the facts about the coronavirus. There is currently no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent the disease, so ignore offers promising otherwise. Stay informed about the disease by visiting the websites of the:
  • Report retailers that appear to take unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services that are vital to the health, safety, or welfare of consumers for an unconscionably excessive price. Report such incidents to the OAG.

Beware of Phishing Attempts Purporting Emergency COVID-19 Information

There are multiple reports of scammers attempting to use concern about the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity for phishing (e.g. an attempt to get an individual to click a link in order to steal passwords, install malware, or otherwise gain access to sensitive information). Individuals should remain vigilant when receiving emails or text messages received claiming to have information about COVID-19 – especially from organizations which they did not sign up to receive alerts from. Some phishing attempts may purport to be from a health authority like the World Health Organization, from someone that makes promises about miracle cures, or asks for donations or other actions. These types of emails may be phishing attempts, where an attacker sends you a message that looks innocent but may contain malware or a link designed to steal an account password. Please review the OAG page regarding phishing for more guidance.

For Healthcare Workers and Providers

If you work for a healthcare provider, hospital, or other organization within the health supply chain, you may see more advanced phishing attempts. Apply the same suggestions described in the link above to any outside emails received. Be mindful that you may be at higher risk for phishing attempts. Some scams that have been seen in the wild include:

  • Emails purporting to be from the Centers for Disease Control providing information on treating COVID-19 that contain booby trapped PDFs.
  • An email received by hospital staff saying that important deliveries have been stalled to that hospital and requiring the user click on a link that actually executes malicious code.

Below is an example of a COVID 19 specific phishing email you may receive.

Example of Below is an example of a COVID 19 specific phishing email you may receive.

Unemployment Insurance Fraud

The United States Secret Service has received reports that a Nigerian fraud ring has been filing unemployment claims in different states using social security numbers and other personally identifiable information (“PII”) belonging to first responders, government personnel and school employees. The scammers operate in a manner similar to those fraudsters who specialize in filing fraudulent federal and state income tax refund requests. In those schemes, the scammers recruit people to receive direct deposits from the fraudulent transactions, and then forward the bulk of the illicit funds to the fraudsters.  In Washington state, the primary state targeted thus far, individuals residing out-of-state are receiving multiple ACH deposits from the State of Washington Unemployment Benefits Program, all in different individuals names with no connection to the account holder. The scam has also been reported in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida but individuals in all states should be on the lookout. If you are a victim of this scam, you should contact your nearest United States Secret Service: gioc.specialops@usss.dhs.gov.

Unemployment Insurance Fraud

Because this scam is perpetrated by gaining access to and using victims’ personally identifiable information, individuals should be aware of the potential for identity theft. Identity theft is the unlawful use of an individual's personal identification information to for example establish credit, make purchases, apply for loans or, as in this case, to seek unemployment benefits. For more specific information about how to protect your identity.

Suspension of Medical and Student Debt Collection

In response to continued financial impairments resulting from the spread of COVID-19, the OAG has renewed an order to halt the collection of medical and student debts that are owed to the State of New York and that have been referred to the OAG for collection through July 16, 2020. After this date, the OAG will again reassess the needs of state residents for a possible extension.

The temporary policy will also automatically suspend the accrual of interest and collection of fees on all outstanding state medical and student debt referred to the OAG for collection, so New Yorkers are not penalized for taking advantage of this program.

Other Types of State Debt - Application for Discretionary Suspension of OAG Collection

New Yorkers with non-medical or non-student debt owed to the State of New York and referred to the OAG, may also apply to temporarily halt the collection of state debt. Individuals seeking to apply for this temporary relief can fill out the OAG’s "COVID-19 Application for Suspension of Debt Collection Activity." If an individual is unable to fill out the online form, they can also call the OAG hotline at 1-800-771-7755 to learn more.

Health Insurance Questions

  • If you have questions or concerns about health insurance costs related to COVID-19 tests or care, please call the OAG’s Health Care hotline: 1-800-428-9071.

Employment Protections

Health and Safety

Executive Order re: Essential Businesses

Emergency Paid Sick and Family Leave

Sick Leave and Family Leave Generally

Unemployment Insurance

Workers’ Compensation for Essential Employees Continuing to Work

Protections Against Discrimination and Harassment Based on National Origin

Protections Against Discrimination for those Recovering from COVID-19

Retaliation

Additional Protection from Retaliation for Healthcare Workers

Health and Safety

Under New York’s reopening plan, New York Forward, your employer’s obligations differ based on your region’s phase of reopening and industry. For current information on your region’s phase of reopening, please visit the New York Forward website. Each industry has its own set of health and safety requirements. Please visit the industry-specific websites below for the guidelines applicable to your industry.

In Phase One, entities in the construction, agriculture, retail trade, wholesale trade, manufacturing, and higher education research sectors are permitted to reopen.

In Phase Two, entities in the real estate, essential and in-store retail, vehicle sales and rentals, rental repair and cleaning, commercial building management, hair salons and barbershops, outdoor take-out and delivery food services, and businesses located in offices are permitted to reopen.

In Phase Three, entities in the food service and personal care sectors are permitted to reopen.

In Phase Four, entities in higher education, low-risk indoor and outdoor arts and entertainment, and media production sectors are permitted to reopen.

New York has set statewide guidelines for child care and day camps, lake and ocean beaches, religious and funeral services, racing activities, dentistry, auto racing, professional sports training facilities, public transportation, and sports and recreation. 

Every business in New York that plans to reopen must establish a New York Forward Safety Plan that details how the business will keep employees safe, including measures it will take to maintain social distancing, maintain a clean working environment, provide adequate personal protective equipment, and ensure that employees who come to work are not carrying the virus.

The State Department of Health has also published guidance on how employers should respond if employees in the workplace become sick with or exposed to the virus.

Your employer also has a general obligation to maintain a safe workplace, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act. OSHA has issued guidance for employers on how to protect employees during the pandemic.

The Center for Disease Control has also published guidance for employers as to how to respond to the pandemic.

If you are concerned that your employer is not following New York Forward guidelines or health and safety mandates, you may file a complaint with the New York Department of Labor. Please use the Department of Labor’s complaint form.

Guidance implementing Executive Order 202.6states that, “Essential Businesses must continue to comply with the guidance and directives for maintaining a clean and safe work environment issued by the Department of Health (DOH) and every business, even if essential, is strongly urged to maintain social distancing measures to the extent possible.”

Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order No. 202.16 directs essential businesses to provide, at their expense, face coverings for their employees when in direct contact with customers or members of the public.

CDC Guidance requires, “If an employee is confirmed to have COVID-19 infection, employers should inform fellow employees of their possible exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace but maintain confidentiality as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)”, thereby permitting the “fellow employees [to] self-monitor for symptoms (i.e., fever, cough, or shortness of breath).”

The same CDC Guidance also requires that the employer “Perform routine environmental cleaning and disinfection, . . . [and] enhanced cleaning and disinfection after persons suspected/confirmed to have COVID-19 have been in the facility.” In particular, CDC Disinfection Recommendations explain that the employer should “Close off areas visited by the ill persons. Open outside doors and windows and use ventilating fans to increase air circulation in the area. Wait 24 hours or as long as practical before beginning cleaning and disinfection. . . .Cleaning staff should clean and disinfect all areas such as offices, bathrooms, common areas, shared electronic equipment like tablets, touch screens, keyboards, remote controls, and ATM machines used by the ill persons, focusing especially on frequently touched surfaces . . . additional cleaning and disinfection is not necessary if it has been more than 7 days since the person with suspected/confirmed COVID-19 visited or used the facility.”

Executive Order re: Essential Businesses

Governor Cuomo issued Executive Orders mandating that all NYS businesses and not-for-profit entities in the state utilize, to the maximum extent possible, telecommuting or work from home procedures. Effective March 22, 2020 at 8 p.m, each employer was directed to reduce its in-person workforce at any work location by 100%. Essential businesses or entities providing essential services or functions are not subject to the 100% in-person reduction, but are subject to the telework mandate.

To make a complaint, please go to the NYS Department of Labor’s complaint form.

Emergency Paid Sick and Family Leave

New federal and state emergency sick and family leave laws offer specific protections for people diagnosed with, have symptoms of, or quarantined for COVID-19, people caring for those with COVID-19, or people caring for children whose schools or day care have closed due to COVID-19.

The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) took effect on April 1, 2020, and the state law took effect March 18, 2020.

Employees who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a medical diagnosis are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave at their usual rate of pay, capped at $5,110 , if they are working for employers of 499 employees or less, with limited exceptions, under federal law.

Under the federal FFCRA, however, an employer may (but is not required to) exclude health care providers and emergency responders from taking emergency paid sick and family leave. (The U.S. Department of Labor is interpreting these exclusions very broadly, although New York State has sued to challenge those interpretations.) In its interpretation of the FFCRA, the U.S. Department of Labor has defined health care provider broadly as, among others, anyone employed at any doctor’s office, hospital, health care center, clinic, medical school, local health department or agency, nursing facility, retirement facility, nursing home, home health care provider, any facility that performs laboratory or medical testing, pharmacy, or any similar institution. The U.S. Department of Labor has defined an emergency responder as anyone necessary for the provision of transport, care, healthcare, comfort and nutrition of such patients, or others needed for the response to COVID-19. Examples include military or national guard, law enforcement officers, correctional institution personnel, fire fighters, emergency medical services personnel, physicians, nurses, public health personnel, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, emergency management personnel, 911 operators, child welfare workers and service providers, public works personnel, and persons with skills or training in operating specialized equipment or other skills needed to provide aid in a declared emergency, as well as individuals who work for such facilities employing these individuals and whose work is necessary to maintain the operation of the facility.

The U.S. Department of Labor has provided this guidance on coverage under the FFCRA.  The U.S. Department of Labor has also encouraged employers to use the exemption carefully.

Individuals who have, have symptoms of, or have been exposed to COVID-19 may be eligible for a mandatory or precautionary quarantine order from the local Health Department.  To get information and guidance on obtaining a quarantine order, please refer to Guidance on Obtaining an Order of Quarantine and this list of county health department contacts.

Both federal and state law provide protections for those under quarantine or isolation orders.  Under the state law, the employee must be under an order issued by the local Health Department.  Further information is available on the factsheet, Guidance on Obtaining an Order of Quarantine.

If the local Health Department is not able to immediately provide an order of quarantine, the employee can submit documentation from a licensed medical provider that meets certain requirements.  Guidance on documentation from a licensed medical provider can also be found on the Obtaining an Order For Mandatory or Precautionary Quarantine factsheet

The state paid leave provisions only apply if they are more protective than the federal leave provisions (either because the federal leave provisions do not apply to an employee, or because the state law provides more coverage). The state law protections do not apply to those who are under quarantine or self-isolation at home but are not symptomatic and are able to work remotely. The state law also protects health care providers and health responders who may not be covered by the federal law. More information on these new leave benefits is available on the New York Paid Leave for COVID-19 website.

Whether state or federal protections govern depends on employer size. This means that in general:

For employers with 100 or more employees

  • Employees are entitled to 14 days of paid sick leave at full pay under state law.

For employers with between 50 and 99 employees

  • Employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay, with a maximum of $5,110 total, under federal law.

For employers with fewer than 50 employees

  • Under federal law, employers with fewer than 50 employees are obligated to provide up to 80 hours of paid sick leave at full pay, with a maximum of $ 5,110 total, with limited exceptions. For employers falling into one of the exceptions in the federal law, state law requires that an employer with between 11 and 49 employees, or with 10 or fewer employees and with net income over $1 million, must provide at least five days of paid sick leave. Under state law, employees of employers with 10 or fewer, disability benefits and New York State Paid Family Leave Benefits are available for the period of quarantine/isolation.
  • Employees may also apply for state paid family leave and temporary disability benefits to cover the rest of a quarantine period, or while they or a family member continue to be sick.  For state family leave benefits, the maximum weekly allowance is $840.70.  For emergency temporary disability benefits, the maximum weekly allowance is $2,043.92.  For more information on state paid family leave, please call the PFL Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the Paid Family Leave for Family Care website.

Employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave at two-thirds pay, with a maximum of $200 per day and $2,000 in total, with limited exceptions, under federal law, if they are caring for someone who has COVID-19 or has been quarantined. U.S. Department of Labor regulations say the person the employee is caring for must be an “the Employee’s immediate family member, a person who regularly resides in the Employee’s home, or a similar person with whom the Employee has a relationship that creates an expectation that the Employee would care for” them.

Employees are also entitled to use state paid family leave to care for sick family members or for children under mandatory quarantine.  For state family leave benefits, employees will be compensated at 60% of their average weekly earnings for 10 weeks with a maximum weekly allowance of $840.70 per week. For more information on state paid family leave, please call the PFL Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the Paid Family Leave for Family Care website.

Employees are entitled to use federal emergency sick leave and emergency family leave to care for children whose schools or day care or preschool facilities have closed due to COVID-19 if they are working for employers of 499 employees or less, with limited exceptions, under federal law. The law also applies if a regular child care provider has become unavailable due to COVID-19. Employers with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from providing family leave if it jeopardizes their business viability. For federal paid sick leave benefits, the employee will receive two-thirds pay with a maximum of $200 per day and $2,000 in the aggregate. For federal family leave benefits, employees can use the emergency paid sick leave for two weeks (to be compensated at a maximum of $2,000 total for those two weeks), and will be compensated at 67% of their regular rate for the following ten weeks, with a maximum of $10,000 total.

Under the new federal law, self-employed individuals who would have been entitled to paid sick or family leave if they were employees will receive a tax credit if they lose work because: (a) they are ordered by a health department or advised by a health care provider to quarantine or self-quarantine, (b) have symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis, (c) are caring for someone in one of the first two categories, or (d) are caring for a child whose school or day care closes. For days when employees would have been entitled to full pay up to $511 per day, the amount of the tax credit will be the lesser of the individual’s daily self-employment income, or $511 per day. For days when employees would have been entitled to two-thirds of their regular pay up to $200 per day, the amount of the tax credit will be the lesser of 67% of average daily self-employment income, or $200 per day.

Both federal and state law prohibit retaliation, including discipline, firing, or otherwise discriminating against an individual, for taking sick or family leave.

If you have been retaliated against for taking or requesting emergency leave, you should contact the Attorney General’s Office using the Labor Bureau’s complaint form. You may also email labor.bureau@ag.ny.gov or call (212) 416-8700.

Sick Leave and Family Leave Generally

In addition to the protections for COVID-19 recovery, New York State and City have generally available paid sick leave and family leave protections for those with, or caring for family members with, other illnesses or medical conditions.

Most employees in New York City and Westchester have up to five days of paid sick leave per year if they work for an employer that has more than five employees or if the employee is a domestic worker.

Employees accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked and most employees can take sick time after they have worked for the employer for 120 days (employees in Westchester can begin taking sick time after 90 days of employment). Employees must be able to carry over at least 40 hours of accrued sick time year to year.

This means that full-time employees will have at least five paid sick days if they have worked for an employer for more than eight months.

Employees should request leave from their employers. An employee may be required to provide reasonable notice (but no more than seven days) only if the use of sick time is foreseeable. Otherwise, for unexpected medical issues, no advance notice is required, but an employer may require that notice be given as soon as practicable.

An employer may not require employees to provide documentation from medical professionals about the necessity of sick leave unless the employee is out for more than three consecutive days.

If you are a resident of New York City and have been unlawfully denied sick leave or want to get more information, please visit the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs or call 311. You can also file a complaint with the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs.

If you are a resident of Westchester County and have been unlawfully denied sick leave or want to get more information, please visit the Westchester Department of Consumer Protection or call (914) 995-2155.

There is currently no general state paid sick leave law, although the Governor has proposed a bill that provides some paid sick leave that may be passed by the legislature this year.

Employees who become ill or injured off-the-job may be eligible for temporary disability benefits. Disability benefits are paid at 50% of an employee’s average weekly wage with a maximum of $170 per week.

For more information on temporary disability benefits, please visit the NYS Workers’ Compensation Board or contact by phone at (877) 632-4996 or via e-mail at Claims@wcb.ny.gov. You can also file a claim with the Workers’ Compensation Board.

Most employees in New York can take 10 weeks of partially paid leave to take care of a family member with a serious health condition. Employees will be compensated at 60% of their average weekly earnings with a maximum weekly allowance of $840.70 per week.

Full-time employees may start taking leave after 26 weeks of starting work and part-time employees may start taking leave after 175 days of work.

Employees should request leave from their employers. An employee may be required to notify the employer 30 days in advance if the leave is foreseeable. If the leave is unexpected, then employees must give their employers notice as soon as practicable.

Please note that employees generally may not use leave for their own medical conditions.

If you have been unlawfully denied family leave or for more information on state paid family leave, please call the NYS Paid Family Leave Helpline at (844) 337-6303 or visit the NYS Paid Family Leave resource page.

Employees are guaranteed 12 weeks of job-protected leave within a 12-month period if they are sick or need to take care of a sick family member if they work for an employer of 50 or more for at least a year, under federal law. Family members include spouses, children, and parents. Employees may take this leave on a part-time or intermittent basis. Your employer must continue your health insurance during the leave of absence, although employees may be asked to make employee contributions.

Employees should request leave from their employers. Employees must give employers 30 days’ notice if leave is foreseeable.

If you have been unlawfully denied FMLA leave, or for more information, please visit the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division or call 1-866-487-9243.

Unemployment Insurance

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Employees may be entitled to unemployment insurance payments for 26 weeks if they are laid off on a temporary or permanent basis through no fault of their own. The amount of benefits employees receive depends on their average weekly rate, with a minimum of $104 per week and a maximum of $504 per week. In order to qualify for weekly benefits, employees must continue to look for work.

Employees should apply for unemployment insurance with the New York Department of Labor immediately after they are laid off.  To file unemployment insurance claims please visit the NYS Department of Labor. You may file a claim online, or you can call the Telephone Claim Center at (888) 209-8124. Once you file a claim for benefits, you must also claim weekly benefits (also known as “certifying for benefits”) for each week you are unemployed and meet the eligibility requirements. You can claim your weekly benefits each week online, or by calling (888) 581-5812.

For more information about the unemployment insurance claim process and eligibility, please visit the NYS Department of Labor claimant handbook.

**During the COVID-19 outbreak, the Department of Labor is not requiring applicants to wait one week before receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

The federal CARES Act will provide enhanced Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for New Yorkers. Beginning April 5, 2020 you may qualify to receive an additional $600 per week. You may also receive an additional 13 weeks of UI benefits if you are still unemployed after 26 weeks. You do not need to do anything for these extra benefits, they will be updated automatically. For more information visit, please visit the NYS Department of Labor.

Yes. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) has extended eligibility for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for UI benefits (e.g., self-employed workers, independent contractors). These individuals are eligible if they cannot work because of COVID-19. Some of the reasons include: a positive COVID-19 diagnosis of the individual or a family member, having symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking diagnosis, they are the primary caregiver of a child whose school closed due to the virus, their place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19, etc. DOL has a streamlined application that allows you to apply for either regular UI or PUA, depending on your eligibility. You do not have to complete a separate application for PUA. The application will determine which program you should be applying for and then prompt you to answer program-specific questions. For more information on the PUA and eligibility, please visit the NYS Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance guidance.

Employees may be entitled to partial unemployment insurance benefits if they work fewer than four days a week and do not earn over the maximum rate of $504 per week. Depending on how many days per week you continue to work, you may receive up to three-quarters of your average weekly rate in partial benefits. Employees who receive partial benefits are entitled to receive benefits for a longer period of time than employees who receive full unemployment insurance benefits.

You may be entitled to unemployment insurance even if you are classified as an independent contractor. If an employer has sufficient control over your schedule, pay, and day-to-day work conditions, you may be misclassified as an independent contractor.

Any worker that experiences loss in work may apply for unemployment insurance with the New York Department of Labor. To file unemployment insurance claims, please visit the NYS Department of Labor.

If you believe you are the victim of identity theft related to unemployment insurance, including someone filing a false claim using your personal information, you can report the fraud to the New York State Department of Labor by submitting an online form, calling a toll-free hotline, 1-888-598-2077, or by mail. The best way to contact the New York State Department of Labor is to fill out the online form. In addition, you can take steps to protect your credit by filing an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission

Workers’ Compensation for Essential Employees Continuing to Work

Employees that contract COVID-19 at their place of work may be entitled to workers’ compensation insurance during any treatment or recovery. Employees receive two-thirds of their average weekly rate in weekly benefits with a maximum payment of $934.11 per week. Employees should apply for benefits with the Workers’ Compensation Board. To file a Workers’ Compensation claim please visit the Workers’ Compensation Board or call (877) 632-4996 for questions or assistance

Protections Against Discrimination and Harassment Based on National Origin

Employers are prohibited by federal, state, and city law from treating employees differently based on race or national origin. If you have been fired, demoted, or harassed because your employer believes that you are from a country where there is a high incidence of COVID-19 cases (such as China, Japan, Iran, or Italy), you may file a complaint with the OAG.

Completed forms can be mailed to the Civil Rights Bureau, emailed to civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or faxed to (212) 416-6030. You may also call (212) 416-8250.

Employees may also file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if you work at a workplace with more than 15 people. Complaints with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory incident. You may also call (800) 669-4000.

Any employee may file with the NYS Division of Human Rights. Complaints with the NYS Division of Human Rights must be filed within one year. You may also call (888) 392-3644.

New York City employees may file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if your employer has employed more than three people in the past year. You may call (718) 722-3131.

Protections Against Discrimination for those with or Recovering from COVID-19

Under federal, state, and local law, employers must provide a reasonable accommodation for employees if, as a result of a long- or short-term disability, they need an accommodation to perform their jobs. Reasonable accommodations can include telecommuting, staggering your schedule, or taking leave. Short-term disabilities protected under the anti-discrimination laws includes severe but temporary illnesses.

Employees should request an accommodation from their employers.

If you have been unlawfully denied an accommodation, you may file a complaint with the OAG.

Employees may also file a complaint with the federal EEOC if you work at a workplace with more than 15 people. Complaints with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory incident. You may also call (800) 669-4000.

Any employee may file with the NYS Division of Human Rights. Complaints with the SDHR must be filed within one year. You may also call (888) 392-3644.

New York City employees may file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if your employer has employed more than three people in the past year. You may call (718) 722-3131.

Federal, state, and local law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for a disability or a perceived disability. If you have been fired, demoted, or harassed because you are being treated for or recovering from COVID-19, please file a complaint with the OAG.

Completed forms can be mailed to the Civil Rights Bureau, emailed to civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or faxed to (212) 416-6030. You may also call (212) 416-8250.

Employees may also file a complaint with the federal EEOC if you work at a workplace with more than 15 people. Complaints with the EEOC must be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory incident. You may also call (800) 669-4000.

Any employee may file with the NYS Division of Human Rights. Complaints with the SDHR must be filed within one year. You may also call (888) 392-3644.

New York City employees may file a complaint with the NYC Commission on Human Rights if your employer has employed more than three people in the past year. You may call (718) 722-3131.

Yes. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has determined that temperature checks and mandatory medical tests for COVID-19 are job-related and consistent with business necessity.  An employer may not, however, require than an employee be tested for anti-bodies.

Retaliation

Retaliation is prohibited for exercising your right to paid or unpaid sick or family leave, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, complaining about health and safety conditions, national origin or race discrimination, or requesting an accommodation for a disability. 

There is also a narrow protection from retaliation under New York’s whistleblower protection law, Labor Law Section 740, by which an employer is prohibited from taking retaliatory action against an employee who “discloses or threatens to disclose to a supervisor or to a public body an activity, policy or practice of the employer that is in violation of law, rule or regulation which violation creates and presents a substantial and specific danger to the public health or safety” or who “objects to, or refuses to participate in any such activity, policy or practice in violation of a law, rule or regulation.” NY Lab. L. § 740(2)(c).

In order to prove a claim under this law, a worker must prove that:

(1) she disclosed or threatened to disclose an activity, policy, or practice of her employer to a supervisor or public body, or objected to or refused to participate in an activity, policy, or practice of the employer; 

(2) the underlying activity, policy, or practice constituted an actual violation of a law, rule, or regulation,

(3) the violation presented a substantial and specific danger to the public; and

(4) the employer fired or disciplined the worker because of her activity in item (1).

If you believe you have been retaliated against for exercising any of your rights above, you should file a complaint with the Labor Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office, email labor.bureau@ag.ny.gov, or call (212) 416-8700.

Additional Protection from Retaliation for Healthcare Workers

Healthcare services professionals who disclose or threaten to disclose information to their supervisors or to the public about the quality of care patients receive are protected from retaliation.

Healthcare professionals with concerns about patient care during the COVID-19 outbreak should contact the NYS Department of Health.

Healthcare employees with concerns about retaliation for reporting patient care issues should contact the OAG.

Nursing Homes and Adult Care Facilities

By order of the Governor, NYS nursing homes are required to report positive COVID-19 cases and deaths to the families of facility residents within 24 hours. The order includes adult homes and other assisted living facilities.

If you are a resident’s family member who did not receive the mandated communication, please file a complaint with the NYAG’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit

Reporting Hate Crimes

The OAG has launched a hotline for New Yorkers to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents. The hotline, which will continue indefinitely, comes in the wake of rising reports of harassment and assaults, as well as rhetoric against Asian Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The OAG urges anyone experiencing hate crimes and bias incidences to report them by emailing the OAG’s Civil Rights Bureau at civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or by calling 1-800-771-7755.

Guidelines for Funerals

New York is facing a unique state of crisis with this pandemic, and that impacts every aspect of peoples’ lives. While we all want to celebrate our loved ones’ lives and memorialize them after they have passed, at this time, we must continue to practice social distancing and limit large public gatherings, including at funeral services. The NYS Department of Health has released recommendations for funeral firms and families planning funerals while New Yorkers continue to battle the COVID-19.

Information for Student Loan Borrowers

If you are having trouble paying your student loans because of the COVID-19 crisis, there may be help for you. What kind of help depends on what types of loan you have. You may have more than one type, which means you may have different options for different loans. If you aren’t sure what types of loan you have, the information below explains how to figure this out.

Federal Student Loans

In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Act provides important new options for many, but not all, federal student loan borrowers. The CARES Act only applies to federal student loans that are held by the federal government. This includes all Direct Loans and those Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans loans that are held by the federal government. (If you have FFEL loans held by a commercial lender, see the next section.) If any of your loans are eligible, you should have received a notice describing the CARES Act benefits by April 11, 2020.

The CARES Act:

  • Automatically suspends principal and interest payments on federally-held student loans through September 30, 2020.
  • Waives all interest on eligible loans during the suspension.
  • Permits eligible borrowers who are on track for loan forgiveness or loan rehabilitation to count the months of suspension as eligible payments for the purpose of the loan forgiveness or rehabilitation program.
  • Ensures that no negative credit information will be provided to Credit Reporting Agencies during the suspension in connection with eligible loans.
  • Suspends collection actions for eligible federal loans, including wage garnishment and reduction of tax refunds and other government benefits, until September 30, 2020.

Call your servicer to confirm which of your loans are covered by the CARES Act and to ask what relief options are available for loans that are not covered. You can also call the Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID or 1-800-999-8219.

Private Loans and Commercially-held FFEL Loans

The CARES Act benefits are not available for FFEL loans that are owned by commercial lenders or private student loans. However, help may still be available for these kinds of loans.

For commercially held FFEL loans and private student loans, the CARES Act does not apply and you should call your servicer to ask what options are available. Most servicers have already agreed to provide some additional help for New York borrowers who ask for it and they are expecting your call. For most New York borrowers, you can expect the following:

  • Up to 90 days of payment forbearance (however, interest may accrue during the forbearance)
  • Waived late fees
  • Your loan will not be sent to collections if you are behind
  • No negative credit reporting

These benefits will not be provided automatically, so call your servicer if you need help. Keep records of your calls (time, date, who you spoke with).

Additionally, if any of your loans are commercial FFEL loans, you may want to consider enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. An income-driven repayment plan bases your payments on your income, which may result in lower monthly payments and will enable borrowers to work toward eventual loan forgiveness. If your income is low enough, your payment on those loans may be as low as $0/month.

If you are already enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan and your income has dropped for whatever reason, you are entitled to apply to have your monthly payment adjusted. Most commercial FFEL loans are eligible for an income-driven repayment plan even though the CARES Act does not apply to them. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of Education.

Perkins Loans

Perkins Loans are not eligible for CARES Act relief, but Perkins Loans that are held by the government are eligible for a 60-day forbearance, with zero interest accruing. This relief may not be available for Perkins loans held by your school. Contact your servicer to find out what relief is available for your Perkins loans.

State Debt

If you owe New York State debt related to your education (for example, unpaid tuition or a loan from the state), collections are suspended until April 15, 2020, at which point the State will determine whether an extension is appropriate. For more information, see Attorney General James and Governor Cuomo’s statement from May 17, 2020.

Frequently Asked Questions on Relief for Student Loan Borrowers:

Who is eligible for the benefits available under the CARES Act?

The CARES Act only applies to federal student loans that are held by the federal government. This includes all Direct Loans and those Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) loans that are held by the federal government. If any of your loans are eligible, you should receive a notice describing the CARES Act benefits by April 11, 2020.

The CARES Act benefits are not available for FFEL loans that are owned by commercial lenders, Perkins loans, or private student loans. However, help may still be available for these kinds of loans. See above for more information.

If you are not sure what types of loan you have, contact your servicer to find out. If you don’t know who your servicer is, for federal student loans, you can find your servicer by visiting the U.S. Department of Education. For private student loans, look at your latest billing statement or check your credit report. Even if your loans don’t qualify for relief under the CARES Act, some help will be available for most borrowers if they call their servicers.

What if I am working towards Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) or forgiveness under an income-driven repayment plan?

For borrowers covered by the CARES Act, if the payment you would have made in a month would otherwise have counted towards forgiveness, the suspended payment will count towards forgiveness. In other words, you do not need to make payments during the CARES Act period to keep progressing towards forgiveness.

Borrowers with commercial FFEL loans not covered by the CARES Act who are working towards forgiveness under an income-driven repayment plan will need to continue to make payments, rather than take forbearance, if they want those months to count towards forgiveness. However, if you are such a borrower and your income has dropped, you are eligible to apply immediately to have your monthly payment recalculated. Even if your payment drops to $0 a month as a result, it will still count towards forgiveness.

What about income-driven repayment plans?

Federal loan borrowers whose loans are eligible for the CARES Act may also want to consider enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan. An income-driven repayment plan bases your payment amount on your income, which may result in lower monthly payments, and will enable borrowers to work toward eventual loan forgiveness. Depending on your income, your payment may be as low as $0/month, even after CARES Act benefits expire. Therefore, even if payments on your loans are suspended, it may still be worth it to you to apply for an income-driven repayment plan.

If you are already enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan, your eligible loans will still receive all CARES Act benefits. If your income has dropped for any reason, you are also entitled to apply immediately to have your monthly payment adjusted (though you will still not need to make payments until after your CARES Act benefits expire).

Borrowers with commercial FFEL loans may also benefit from applying for an income-driven repayment plan, even though those loans are not eligible for CARES Act benefits. See the section on Private Loans and Commercially-held FFEL Loans, above.

For more information on eligibility and the benefits of such plans, visit the U.S. Department of Education.

Do I have to pay a fee to have my loan payments suspended?

No. You do not have to pay anything to suspend your payments. If someone asks for money to obtain a suspension of payments, it is a scam and you should report them to our office by submitting a complaint.

For more information on debt relief scams, please visit our website.

What should I do if I think my servicer is not giving me the relief I’m entitled to?

If you have determined the types of loans you have, reviewed this information and the information at the Department of Education’s website carefully, and believe that your servicer is denying you relief to which you are entitled, you may submit a complaint to our office.

Information on Relief for College Students

The CARES Act provides several forms of relief to currently enrolled college students. 

  • The Act establishes the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which disburses funds to colleges. Colleges are required to use a portion of these funds to provide emergency financial aid grants to students for expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus. 
  • The Act provides relief to college students who are forced to drop out of school as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. This relief ensures that the student’s withdrawal does not affect the student’s future ability to qualify for federal grants and loans.

HEERF emergency financial aid grants are available to:

  • HEERF emergency financial aid grants are administered and disbursed by the students’ schools and are available to students who are otherwise eligible for federal financial aid.
  • Eligibility requirements include: U.S. citizenship or eligible noncitizen status; a valid Social Security number; registration with Selective Service (if the student is male); and a high school diploma, GED, or completion of high school in an approved homeschool setting.
  • Students who are enrolled in online-only educational programs are not eligible for HEERF grants.

How students can obtain HEERF emergency financial aid:

  • Students should contact their school for information about how to apply for a HEERF emergency financial aid grant.
  • Students should direct questions about other types of CARES Act relief for students to their school or to the U.S. Department of Education at 1-800-4-FED-AID or 1-800-999-8219.

Other CARES Act relief for college students:

  • Students’ eligibility for Pell Grants will not be affected by their non-completion of a semester due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • If a student is forced to withdraw mid-semester due to the COVID-19 crisis, that semester will not be counted for purposes of usage limitations for subsidized federal student loans.
  • Schools can continue to pay work-study students who cannot complete work hours as a result of the crisis.
  • For students who withdraw mid-semester due to the crisis, the unused part of the students’ Pell grants will not be collected, and the students’ obligation to repay the portion of the loan associated with the period where the student withdrew from the school will be cancelled.

Tenants’ Rights

The Attorney General’s Office is unable to represent individuals or provide legal advice specific to your case. Instead, this FAQ will give general information about your rights. For specific legal advice for your case, you should contact an attorney. To find a free attorney, visit LawHelpNY. You can also contact your local bar association to get assistance. In NYC, you can contact 311 who can direct you to an attorney or a city agency.

Tenants rights during the COVID-19 Crisis in New York State

Eviction Moratorium

Tenant Protections Specific to COVID-19

Eviction Moratorium

Certain types of evictions are suspended through August 19, 2020.

The Courts are not currently accepting new eviction cases and no County Sheriff, City Marshal or City Constable may currently perform an eviction, even if there is an existing warrant. Courts may begin to accept new eviction cases so you should contact the Court system at (833) 503-0447 to see if your court is accepting cases.

Starting June 20, 2020, tenants who are eligible for unemployment insurance/benefits or are financially affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be protected from evictions in non-payment eviction cases.

The Court has also suspended execution on warrants of eviction until at least July 6, 2020.

This means starting July 7,2020:

  • County Sheriffs, City Marshals and City Constables can evict you in an eviction case for a reason other than nonpayment of rent if the court already issued a warrant of eviction.
  • For new case filings:
    • Landlords will be allowed to start eviction cases unrelated to nonpayment of rent.
    • Landlords will be allowed to start eviction cases for nonpayment of rent or execute a warrant in an eviction case about nonpayment of rent if you are ineligible for unemployment insurance/benefits or if your inability to pay is unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Please go to the section “I just got served with new court papers seeking my eviction. Should I go to court?” for further information about the court process during COVID-19.
  • Also check the CARES Act Section to see if you have further protections under federal law.

These protections run through August 19, 2020.

If a New York State Sheriff attempts to evict you, you should contact the Sheriff’s office and then your local County government’s general number if you believe it is a violation of the Governor’s Executive Order.

If a City Marshal attempts to evict you, you should call that City Marshal’s office and then call the NYC Department of Investigation at (212) 825-5953 if you believe it is a violation of the Governor’s Executive Order.

If a City Constable attempts to evict you, you should contact that City Constable’s office and then call your city government’s general number if you believe it is a violation of the Governor’s Executive Order.

Many landlords of single-family homes have mortgages that are issued, insured or owned by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) or the quasi-government entities FANNIE MAE or FREDDIE MAC. These homeowners are receiving foreclosure protections and their tenants are covered by eviction protections.

If you live in a single-family home where your landlord’s mortgage is covered, evictions for any reason are suspended until August 31, 2020. This applies to both holdovers and non-payment cases. You do not need to show that you are eligible for Unemployment Benefits or that you were financially affected by COVID-19.

You will want to speak with an attorney to find out if these protections apply to you and/or you can ask the Judge in your case to ask the Landlord whether these protections apply to you.

The federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act” or “CARES Act” may provide you additional protection from eviction beyond the eviction moratorium that currently expires June 19, 2020. For these covered tenants, the Act implements a federal eviction moratorium through August 20, 2020.

Tenants in both single-family and multi-family buildings are protected by the Act if their landlord has a federally backed mortgage. Examples of federally backed mortgages include where the mortgage has been purchased by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, the mortgage is guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), or where the mortgage is an FHA Home Equity Conversion mortgage. To see if you live in housing that is a “covered property or dwelling” under the CARES Act, you can either ask your landlord or seek guidance from an attorney.

In addition, federally subsidized housing is also covered by the Act. Some of the covered housing includes, but is not limited to:

  • Public Housing
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and project-based housing
  • Section 202 housing for the elderly
  • Section 236 multi-family housing
  • HOME units
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) units
  • Rural Rental Housing

Landlords of covered properties cannot start an eviction against their tenants until at least July 25, 2020. After July 25, the landlord must also serve a 30-day notice before bringing you to court. The eviction moratorium only applies to new cases where the tenant was unable to pay their rent during the moratorium period. Landlords also may not charge fees, or other penalties related to the nonpayment of rent or late payment of rent.

If your landlord has served you with a notice indicating that you will be evicted if you do not pay your rent or that your tenancy is being terminated because you failed to pay your rent between March 27, 2020 and July 25, 2020, you may want to consult with an attorney to determine if the federal CARES Act protects you.

In New York City, you can contact 311 or you can reach out to NYC Right to Counsel Hotline at 718-557-1379 or Housing Court Answers at 212-962-4795 for information and referrals to attorneys who may be able to provide representation.

Outside of New York City, you may find a legal referral from LawHelpNY.

The Courts are allowing landlords to file new eviction cases but the cases will not be scheduled until the Governor lifts the Executive Order that suspends the Statute of Limitations (currently set to expire July 6, 2020). You should not ignore court papers even if you are eligible for protection by the eviction moratorium or you hear that courts are not defaulting tenants who fail to answer.

You may be entitled by law to take additional days or weeks before filing an answer. In addition, some courts may allow you to answer the petition by phone instead of having to go to the court.

You should contact the Court system at (833) 503-0447 to find out more information about how to answer court papers.

In NYC, you can contact Housing Court Answers at (212) 962-4795 to help with filing an answer. You can also reach the Housing Court Help Center who may be able to answer your questions about filing an answer by phone. Leave a message with a phone number where you can be reached and a court attorney will call you back.

Bronx and Manhattan: (646) 386-5554 or 5555
Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island: (718) 262-7185 or 7186

Outside NYC, you can go to the court website to find information about answering a petition. You can also contact your local city, village or district court to find information about how to answer the petition. You can find your local court here.

Be aware that pre-court notices -- , , notice to quit --

For all cases, you should contact your local courts or the general number at (833) 503-0447. Most cases are not receiving a court date but you should confirm with the court.

If a warrant of eviction was issued in your case, you should contact the court immediately and find out whether you should file papers to stop the eviction (called an Order to Show Cause – OSC).

It is a Class A Misdemeanor for your landlord to threaten you, change your locks or otherwise try to force you from your apartment without a court order.

If a landlord locks you out or tries to evict you illegally, you should call 911 and show the law enforcement officer identification, lease, public utility bill, or other document with your name and address.

If you are unable to get back into your apartment, you should contact the Court system at (833) 503-0447 to find your closest emergency court. In NYC, you will be allowed to go to Housing Court in your borough to file an emergency petition to be restored to your apartment.

The suspension of evictions does not suspend your obligation to pay rent. Contact your local Department of Social Servicesif you need help paying rent.

However, you are protected from eviction for failing to pay rent that came due starting March 3, 2020 if you suffered a financial hardship.

If you are sued in court for non-payment of rent, you can raise financial hardship due to COVID-19 as a defense to the proceeding. The court will look at the following factors to determine whether you had a financial hardship due to COVID-19:

  • (i) your income prior to the COVID-19 covered period;
  • (ii) your income during the COVID-19 covered period;
  • (iii) your liquid assets; and
  • (iv) your eligibility for and receipt of cash assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance program, supplemental security income, the New York State disability program, the home energy assistance program, or unemployment insurance or benefits under state or federal law.

If the court finds that you had a financial hardship due to COVID-19, the landlord will not be allowed to evict you for the rent that was owed due to your hardship. However, the court can issue a money judgment against you for that rent.

You can now apply your security deposit to any arrears or future rent. If you are eligible for unemployment insurance/benefits or are affected financially due to COVID-19, your landlord must accept your request to apply your security deposit to rent. Other tenants can still agree with their landlords to apply their security deposit to rent but the landlord does not have to allow it. However, your landlord cannot force you to use your security deposit for rent if you do not want to do so.

You will need to pay back the security deposit every month over a period of 12 months, starting 90 days after you apply the security deposit towards the rent. For instance, if your security deposit is $1,200, you would need to pay $100 per month for 12 months starting 90 days after you used your security deposit for rent. You can choose to use a security deposit insurance policy instead of repaying the security deposit.

It depends. Your landlord cannot charge you a late fee or other fee if you are late in paying rent from March 20, 2020 through August 20, 2020.

For all other times, your landlord can only charge a late or other fee if it is allowed by your lease. Even if your lease allows for late fees, your landlord can only charge $50 or 5% of your rent, whichever is less.

You cannot be evicted for failing to pay a late or other fee.

No. It is a deceptive business practice to threaten an eviction or demand that a tenant leave when there is a moratorium on evictions and the courts are closed. Section 349 of the General Business Law prohibits landlords from engaging in deceptive business practices. Sending a false or misleading notice to tenants violates the law and could subject the landlord to financial penalties.

A landlord cannot evict you without going to court. Right now, the courts are not allowing landlords to file new eviction cases through its own Administrative Order. Courts may begin to accept new eviction cases so you should contact the Court system at (833) 503-0447 to see if your court is accepting cases.

A notice that threatens that you will be evicted before the moratorium on filing eviction cases in court is over is illegal. Any notice that demands that you leave before the moratorium on evictions is over is also illegal.

No. Your landlord must take you to court to evict you and you may have protections from eviction. Your landlord cannot change your locks or otherwise evict you without going to court even if your lease expires. The courts are beginning to accept cases although the courts are moving slowly in allowing cases to be scheduled.

Even if your landlord serves you with a notice to vacate and then files a court case after the moratorium, it will take time for you to be evicted. The court must determine whether the landlord has a right to evict you. If the court decides that your landlord can evict you, you can ask the court for up to one year to move if you can show that you cannot find a similar apartment in the same neighborhood. The judge will take into account your health conditions, whether you have children enrolled in school, the hardship on the landlord if you remain, and any other life circumstances that could affect your ability to move.

After the judge issues a decision, the landlord still cannot change your locks or evict you themselves. Instead, the judge will issue a final judgment of possession and a warrant. The warrant goes to a Sheriff, City Marshal, or City Constable who issues a notice and then will carry out the eviction.

No, do NOT go to court. Some new cases were filed in NYC after the eviction moratorium went into effect. If you received papers informing you of a new case, you should not go to court. Instead, you can contact the Housing Court in your borough to find out more information.

If you receive new court papers that have a court date, you should contact the court at (833) 503-0447 to determine how to proceed.

If you have an upcoming court date at a New York City Housing Court, that case will be administratively adjourned until the courts open again, and you will receive a postcard informing you of the new court date.

Also, rent demand or termination of tenancy notices do not require you to go to court. Do not go to court to try to respond to them. Your landlord will not be able to file a new case against you until the courts re-open for this purpose. At that time, the court will send you a notice telling you when to come to court.

In New York City, you can contact 311 or you can reach out to the NYC Right to Counsel Hotline at 718-557-1379 or Housing Court Answers at 212-962-4795 for information and referrals to attorneys who may be able to provide representation.

Outside of New York City, you may find a legal referral from LawHelpNY.

Tenant Protections Specific to COVID-19 Harassment by Landlord

Harassment by Landlord

New York State laws make it illegal for landlords to engage in any action that is intended to force tenants to leave their homes or otherwise give up their rights under law. This means that your landlord is prohibited from interfering with your privacy, comfort and quiet enjoyment of your home.

For example, your landlord may not persistently call you at all hours of the day or night asking you for the rent or suggesting that you must move out because you are behind in the rent. Your landlord may also not engage in disruptive construction or renovation projects in your building that interfere with your health and safety and use of your apartment. These actions could be considered harassment.

You can call 911 if your landlord threatens you, forcibly removes you from your apartment, or locks you out. You may also be able to obtain an Order of Protection against your landlord. You can find information about how to obtain an Order of Protection from the New York State Unified Court System. Please call the court at (833) 503-0447 to get more information and to confirm whether the court will allow you to file an application for an Order of Protection.

In New York City, the New York City Tenant Protection Act also provides additional strong anti-harassment protections. If you believe your landlord has engaged in harassment, you can contact 311 or the Right to Counsel hotline at 718-557-1379.

Rent Increases

It depends. If you have a current lease, your landlord cannot increase your rent until it expires. If you are rent-stabilized or rent-controlled, the landlord is limited in the amounts it can increase your rent (currently 1.5% for a one-year renewal and 2.5% for a two-year renewal).

For market-rate tenants whose lease is expiring or are month-to-month tenants, your landlord must provide you with advance written notice of any rent increases above 5%:

  • 90 days written advance notice if you have lived in your apartment two years or more, or if you have a two-year lease;
  • 60 days written advance notice if you have lived in your apartment for more than one year, but less than two years;
  • 30 days advance written notice if you have lived in your apartment for less than one year or have a lease for less than one year.

Even if you are given proper advance notice of the rent increase, your landlord cannot charge you the increase in rent unless you accept it by signing a lease, paying the increase, or take another affirmative step evidencing you accepted the increase.

If you refuse to pay the increase, the landlord must go to court to evict you. However, your landlord cannot bring you to court because there is currently a moratorium on both new cases and evictions.

Once in court, the landlord cannot make you pay the rent increase if you did not accept it. Instead, the landlord can only ask the court for you to pay “use and occupancy” for the pendency of the case and the court will set this amount.

If your landlord is rent gouging based on the COVID-19 crisis, the court likely will set the rent close to your previous rent or perhaps lower if the market rents have decreased or you have poor conditions or housing violations in your apartment.

Disruption of Essential Services

Tenants are entitled to a livable, safe, and sanitary home whether they are paying rent or not. A landlord’s failure to provide essential services such as hot water or electricity is a breach of the warranty of habitability. In light of the recent implementation of Governor Cuomo’s order that all non-essential businesses close and that non-essential workers remain at home, it is even more critical that your landlord not disrupt services.

If your landlord has failed to provide essential services to you and you live in New York City, you can call 311 and request an emergency inspection. The deliberate disruption or discontinuance of essential services may also constitute harassment as described above or be considered an unlawful eviction.

If you live outside of New York City, you can call your local code enforcement office to complain about a loss of essential services such as heat and hot water or other bad conditions.

If the repair is an essential service (heat, hot water, etc), you can contact the court at (833) 503-0447 to determine whether and how to file a case against your landlord to fix these conditions.

If you live in New York City, you can visit JustFix NYC to fill out an emergency housing part action form. If you are not comfortable doing this alone, you can call the Housing Court Answers hotline at 212-962-4795, and get help filling out the JustFix forms.

Discrimination

A landlord cannot discriminate against you or evict you because you or someone you live with has contracted COVID-19, had COVID-19, or the landlord just thinks that you have or had COVID-19.

If you are elderly or have a physical, mental, or medical impairment, which may include a COVID-19-related illness, you are protected from housing discrimination under federal, state, and city laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law. In addition, it is unlawful for landlords and their agents to discriminate against tenants for associating with individuals of a protected class. For example, your landlord may not discriminate against you for associating with someone who is elderly or has a physical, mental, or medical impairment.

Similarly, your landlord cannot treat you unfairly or differently because you are from or look like you are from a country where there is a serious COVID-19 outbreak. Your landlord also cannot refuse to protect you if you are being harassed by other tenants because you are from or look like you are from a country where there is a serious COVID-19 outbreak.

To report any acts of discrimination, you may call the New York State Division of Human Rights at (888) 392-3644, in New York City, you may call 311 or the New York City Commission on Human Rights at (718) 722-3131, or in Westchester County, you may call the Westchester Human Rights Commission at (914) 995-7710. You may also file a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney’s General Office.

Landlords are required to make reasonable accommodations in rules and procedures for persons with disabilities. If your landlord has a rule that you believe puts you at risk, you can ask for an accommodation in that rule. Your landlord may ask that you provide information that verifies your need for the accommodation, including documentation from a medical professional.

Even if you are not elderly or at high risk from COVID-19, you should contact your landlord to see if they will change a rule that might place you at risk or forces you to violate the law. For instance, the Governor has issued an order that all non-essential travel be stopped and therefore landlords should change their policies about requiring you to travel to their offices to pay rent. You can contact your local elected officials or your local representatives who can help you negotiate with your landlord.

Posting a notice that someone has an illness would be considered discrimination unless it is necessary to protect the health of others. Generally, there is no need to identify a person who has contracted COVID-19. Instead, a landlord can post a notice stating that someone within the building has contracted COVID-19 without identifying the person who got ill.

To report any acts of discrimination, you may call the New York State Division of Human Rights at (888) 392-3644, in New York City, you may call 311 or the New York City Commission on Human Rights at (718) 722-3131, or in Westchester County, you may call the Westchester Human Rights Commission at (914) 995-7710. You may also file a complaint with the Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney’s General Office.

Request for Access to Your Apartment By Landlord

Your landlord is allowed reasonable access to your apartment. Reasonableness will depend on both why your landlord wants to gain access and also the risk to you and your family in allowing them access. For instance, if your landlord wants to show your apartment to a potential tenant and you have a sick family member, the court likely will not find this reasonable.

If your landlord needs to enter into your apartment, he or she must provide you with at least 24-hours written notice of the need for access, unless it is an emergency (e.g. an overflowing water leak). If you do not want to allow individuals into your home in light of concerns about the transmissibility of COVID-19, or if you suffer from a disability that puts you at greater risk and your landlord demands access for non-emergency repairs, you should put in writing your reason for denying access to the landlord. Make a copy of the letter and mail the original to your landlord or preserve any text messages or emails you send and any responses. Ultimately, if your landlord takes you to court for denying access, a judge will determine whether your denial was reasonable and so it is important to put the landlord on notice.

Breaking your Lease

You are allowed to break your lease, however, you may be liable for rent for the entire length of the lease if the landlord is unable to find a new tenant at or above the rent you were paying. You will want to first speak with your landlord to see if they will release you from the lease. If the landlord agrees, you will want to get this agreement in writing.

If your landlord refuses to let you out of the lease, you can still leave. Your landlord will have to make a good-faith effort to fill the vacancy. If the landlord finds a new tenant, and the new tenant’s rent is equal or higher to your rent, your lease is considered terminated. You are no longer liable for rent for the remainder of your lease.

If your landlord is unable to find a new tenant or the new tenant is paying rent at a rate lower than your rent, you would be liable for the rent (or difference in rent) for the entire term of the lease. Rent will be due each month for the term of the lease. If you do not pay, the landlord would have to take you to court to collect the rent. The landlord must serve you with court papers. If the landlord is successful in obtaining a judgment against you in court, it must then enforce the judgment against you. To get more information about how a landlord collects on a judgment, visit the New York State Unified Court System.

Retaliation

A landlord cannot refuse to renew your lease or tenancy or unreasonably increase your rent because you made a complaint. There is a presumption that your landlord is retaliating if you made a complaint to the landlord or a government agency about your rights within one year of the landlord refusing to renew your lease or unreasonably increasing your rent. If your landlord brings you to court, you can raise this as a defense and if you are successful, the landlord must provide you with a new lease.

Small Business Bulletin on the Paycheck Protection Program

Information on Business Interruption Insurance

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The recently enacted Paycheck Protection Program can be a potential lifeline for small businesses struggling due to the current crisis. 

To ensure that New York’s small businesses and non-profits gain access to these funds and avoid fraud in the process, the Office of the New York State Attorney General (OAG) developed this bulletin summarizing the program and highlighting some risks for small businesses to keep in mind. In addition, the OAG will continue to monitor the market and will take action to hold lenders and agents accountable for any efforts to defraud New York small businesses. 

What is the Paycheck Protection Program?

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is a source of forgivable, low-interest, no-fee, no-collateral, no-personal-guarantee loans guaranteed by the U.S. Government as a response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The loans are administered by eligible financial institutions (see below) under the authority of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). 

PPP loans are generally available to small businesses and non-profit and religious organizations with 500 or fewer employees, subject to some statutory and regulatory exceptions. PPP loans are also available to sole proprietorships, independent contractors, and self-employed persons.

Interest rates for PPP loans are fixed at 1% per year. Loans may be issued in amounts up to $10 million, depending on borrowers’ payroll costs, with no collateral or personal guarantee required. PPP loans have two-year terms, and borrowers make no payments until 6 months after taking out the loan, although interest will accrue during this time. Borrowers pay no fees on PPP loans.

The loan amounts will be forgiven as long as:

  • The borrower uses at least 75% of the loan proceeds to cover payroll costs (up to $100,000 per year per employee) during the 8-week period after the loan is issued, with the remainder being used for payroll, mortgage interest, rent, and utilities, and
  • The borrower maintains employee and compensation levels.

PPP loans will be issued on a first-come, first-serve basis until funds designated by Congress are depleted. Congress has to date authorized $349 billion for PPP loans nationwide. The program ends on June 30, 2020. 

To learn more about PPP loans, be sure to read the following guides:

5 Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself and Your Business from Fraud When Applying for a PPP Loan

  • 1. Deal Only with Trusted Lenders – and Don’t Be a Victim to Phony PPP Lenders
    • Don’t take out a PPP loan from a lender you do not trust or recognize without conducting appropriate due diligence. To find a lender eligible to issue PPP loans, visit the SBA's website. Click the “FIND A LENDER” link to find an eligible lender located near you.
    • PPP rules allow the loans to be arranged by agents, including attorneys, accountants, and consultants. An agent is not required, however, and you should be wary of promises from parties who are not authorized lenders to expedite a loan on your behalf. To minimize the risk of fraud, you should contact an eligible, trusted lender yourself and not rely on agents or lenders that cold-call your business. 
    • If you do decide to work with an agent, make sure the agent is a person or company you recognize and trust. Confirm in writing that the agent is working with specific lenders eligible to participate in the PPP program, and confirm in writing the agent’s full name, phone number, and mailing address. Do not pay the agent any fees (see below).
    • Some lenders may advertise PPP loans even though they have no authority from the U.S. government to do so. They may also advertise loans “administered” by the SBA, even though true PPP loans are administered only by lenders, not the SBA itself. 
    • If an unauthorized lender promises a PPP loan or a loan “administered” by the SBA, that promise may be a sham, and the lender may be trying to sell you a different type of loan or funding – possibly with higher interest than permitted for PPP loans and with improper fees. Always confirm that a lender is eligible to issue PPP loans and that you are being offered a product consistent with terms of the PPP program described above.
  • 2. Make Sure the Information in Your Loan Application is 100% Correct, and Don’t Let Anyone Add Information that Isn’t Accurate
    • Unscrupulous agents or lenders may encourage borrowers to put false information in their loan applications in order to get the biggest loan possible (and to maximize their fees).
    • Don’t be a victim to this fraudulent practice. A fraudulent loan application can result in criminal liability for the borrower. To avoid this risk, make sure that everything in your application is correct, and don’t let any agent or lender put inaccurate information in it.
  • 3. Don’t Pay Fees to Get a PPP Loan
    • Lenders and agents may not charge borrowers fees or commissions in order to issue and service PPP loans.
    • Lenders will be paid fees only by the SBA, not by borrowers. The SBA will pay lenders processing fees of 5% (for loans up to $350,000), 3% (for loans more than $350,000 but less than $2 million), or 1% (for loans of $2 million or more). 
    • If you are working with an agent, the agent’s fees are to be paid only by the lender, and the agent is not allowed to charge you anything or take any amounts from the principal of your loan.
  • 4. Don’t Pay above 1% Annual Interest for a PPP Loan
    • PPP loans are low-interest loans, with annual interest rates of just 1% per year. Do not agree to any PPP loan that carries an interest rate higher than 1%. 
  • 5. Watch the Small Business Administration’s Website for New Developments
    • This Consumer Alert from the OAG reflects guidance from the U.S. government as it exists on April 14, 2020. But the PPP is a brand-new program, and its rules could change from day to day. Be sure to regularly check the Small Business Administration's website for new developments concerning PPP loans.

Have You Been Defrauded in Connection with a PPP Loan?

If you believe you have been defrauded by someone offering, issuing, or servicing a PPP loan, or if you have been offered a PPP loan by a lender that does not appear on the SBA.gov website as an eligible lender, you may file a complaint with the OAG's Office of Consumer Frauds and Protection , either online or by phone at 1-800-771-7755. 

You may also submit a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission

Be sure to save all documents and communications concerning the loan, including agreements, emails, and advertising.

Information on Business Interruption Insurance

Business Interruption Insurance may cover total or partial suspension of business operations due to a direct loss, damage, or destruction to the insured property by a covered peril.

Interruption by civil authority coverage may cover the actual loss sustained by the insured during the length of time when access to the business premises is specifically prohibited by order of civil authority.

Because coverage varies across policies, you will need to read your particular policy and consult your broker or insurer to determine if you have these coverages and whether they are applicable.

What types of losses may be covered?

These coverages may provide for replacement of such things as revenue, rent payments, taxes, loan payments, payroll for employees and relocation costs.

What steps should I take to protect my rights?

Insurers may disclaim coverage for items they are required to insure if the insured does not provide timely notice of the claim. If you think you may have this coverage you should put your insurer on notice that you may be pursuing a claim.

Is my business interruption coverage applicable to COVID-19?

Whether this coverage is applicable to the current pandemic will depend on the specific terms of your policy and the specific facts involved in the disruption of your business. 

Tips on Charitable Giving - COVID-19

COVID-19 pandemic has created new challenges for all of us, and enormous needs for families of those affected by the disease, people who have lost their jobs, healthcare workers lacking protective equipment, organizations trying to fulfill those needs and many more. At the same time, generous New Yorkers and people throughout the country, as they have done during countless other disasters, seek ways to help.

To make sure that your contributions go to legitimate relief organizations and directly to help victims, please consider these tips:

  • Check Before Giving. Donate to charities you are familiar with and carefully review information about the charity before you give. Most charities are required to register and file financial reports with the Attorney General's Charities Bureau if they solicit contributions from New Yorkers. Check our website, charitiesnys.com, for financial reports of charities or ask the charity directly for its reports.
  • Ask How Your Donation Will Be Used. Find out how the charity plans to use your donation, including the services and individuals your donation will support. Find out more than just the cause. Being told only that your money will go “to fight COVID,” “support first responders,” or “support workers” does not tell you enough. Find out what organization or entity will receive the money and what programs it conducts or what services it provides.
  • Look Into Newly Formed Organizations Carefully. Often, in the aftermath of tragedies, new organizations emerge to meet community needs. While most of these organizations are well-intentioned, and some may provide innovative forms of assistance, some may not have the experience or infrastructure to follow through on their promises, and some may turn out to be scams.
  • Solicited by Email? Find Out Who is Soliciting. If you receive a solicitation by email, find out who is behind that email address. Contact the charity whose name is in the email or visit its website to find out if the email is really from the charity. Do not give personal information or your credit card number in response to an email solicitation unless you have checked out the charity.
  • Be Careful When Giving Through Social Media or other fundraising sites. As with other tragedies, social media sites are being used to raise money for victims of COVID-19 or charities. Before giving through these sites, research the identity of the organizer ofthe fundraising efforts and ask the same questions you would of a charity. Online platforms that host groups and individuals soliciting for causes may not thoroughly vet those who use their service. Donors should only give to campaigns conducted by people whom they know. Donors also should take a close look at the site’s FAQs and Terms and Conditions to see what fees will be charged. Also, don’t assume that charities recommended on social media sites, blogs, or other websites have already been vetted. Research the charity yourself to confirm that the charity is aware of the campaign and has given its approved permission for the use of its name or logo. If available, sign up for updates from the campaign organizer to keep abreast on how contributions to the campaign are being spent (i.e., if for meals for first responders, updates to demonstrate meals were purchased or if for “PPE” updates that show PPE being donated).
  • Exercise Caution Before You Text A Contribution. Check the charity’s website or call the charity to confirm it has authorized contributions to be made via text message.
  • Don't Give Cash. Give directly to the charity either by check made payable to the organization or through the charity's website.
  • Be Careful About Personal Information. Be cautious before giving credit card or personal information over the phone, by text message or via the Internet. In all cases, make sure you are familiar with the organization to which you give such information and check to see that the fundraising campaign is legitimate.
  • Report Suspicious Organizations. If you believe an organization is misrepresenting its work, or that a fundraising or charitable scam is taking place, please contact the Charities Bureau at complaints@ag.ny.gov.

Price Gouging During the COVID-19 Pandemic

New York’s price gouging statute, section 396-r of the New York General Business Law (GBL) prohibits charging unconscionably excessive prices for essential goods and services during periods of an abnormal disruption of the market. The statute applies to goods and services that are vital and necessary to the health, safety and welfare of consumers and the general public. These include:

  • Essential consumer goods and services provided primarily for personal, family or household purposes;
  • Essential medical supplies and services used for the care, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of illness or disease; and
  • Essential goods and services used to promote the health or welfare of the public.

The statute prohibits price gouging by all parties in the chain of distribution. This includes retailers as well as manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors. The New York Attorney General is charged with enforcing the statute and may also promulgate rules and regulations.

What are examples of consumer goods (used for personal, family, or household purposes) that are considered essential?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Attorney General has considered the following consumer goods as essential:

  • Hand sanitizing products
  • Disinfectants (e.g., wipes, liquid, sprays)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Toilet paper and tissues
  • Basic food supplies (e.g., milk, eggs, bread, rice, flour, yeast, etc.)
  • Infant formula, diapers, and baby food
  • Basic medications and supplies (e.g., over-the-counter medications, vitamins, thermometers, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs, etc.)
  • Other essential products (e.g., adult diapers, feminine hygiene products, etc.)

Because the CDC recommends that individuals wear “cloth face coverings” that consumers can make on their own, and not surgical masks or N-95 respirators, facemasks for personal, household, or family use are not being considered as subject to the state price gouging statute.

What are examples of essential medical goods and goods necessary to promote the health and welfare of the public?

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) used by health care workers, including surgical facemasks, N-95 respirators, disposable medical gloves, disposable medical gowns, face shields, goggles, and ventilators.
  • Hand sanitizing products, disinfectants (wipes, liquid, sprays), and rubbing alcohol used in a health care facility or by businesses for use by their employees (e.g., restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, etc.)

What constitutes an unconscionably excessive price?

  • The amount charged represents a gross disparity between the price of the goods or services sold and their value measured by the price at which such consumer goods or services were sold or offered in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the abnormal disruption of the market, or
  • The amount charged grossly exceeded the price at which the same or similar goods or services were readily obtainable by other consumers in the trade area.

What are the penalties for engaging in price gouging?

Anyone engaging in price gouging may be required to make restitution to aggrieved consumers and is subject to a penalty of up to $25,000 for each violation or three times the gross receipts for the overcharged goods or services (whichever is greater).

New York City Emergency Regulations

Merchants in New York City must also comply with the emergency regulations currently in effect in New York City. Under the Rules of the City of New York (6 RCNY §5-38), stores are prohibited from selling items that have been declared in short supply at excessively increased prices. These items currently include the following: cleaning products, diagnostic products and services, disinfectants (e.g., wipes, liquids, sprays), facemasks, gloves, hand sanitizers, medicines, paper towels, rubbing alcohol, soap and tissues. For more information, visit the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.

How to file a complaint about price gouging with the Attorney General: Consumers and Merchants?

The Attorney General invites consumers and merchants to report instances of price gouging.

Merchants who believe their distributors are charging unconscionably excessive prices for essential consumer goods or services can report such instances without fear of enforcement action by the Attorney General as long as the merchant has not also engaged in independent price gouging.

Whether you are a consumer or merchant, if you have information about price-gouging under the New York state price gouging statute, you can submit a complaint to the Attorney General’s Office.

Protecting Your Credit During the COVID-19 Crisis

You can get help with your debt without hurting your credit score: 

A new federal law, the CARES Act, protects consumers from incurring harm to their credit score as a result of obtaining relief from their creditors during the COVID-19 crisis.  The law provides that if you are affected by the COVID-19 crisis and request a forbearance or other modification of your loan, and your account was in good standing, you will not suffer harm to your credit during the period that you are receiving the accommodation.

Who is protected from negative credit reporting:

Borrowers who receive an accommodation because they are affected by the COVID-19 crisis and whose accounts were in “current” status prior to receiving an accommodation are protected from negative credit reporting on that account during the period of the accommodation. However, borrowers whose account was charged-off or that was in “delinquent” status prior to the granting of the accommodation are not eligible for this protection. The protection applies to mortgages, student loans, as well as other types of loans. 

What should I do if a furnisher reports negative information about my account while I am receiving an accommodation?

If you discover that a company has reported negative information about your account while you are receiving an accommodation, you have the right to dispute the negative information with the furnisher of the information and/or with the credit reporting agency.  If you are unable to resolve the issue through the dispute process, you should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

You can request a free credit report from each of the three national credit reporting agencies to see if there is any erroneous information on your credit report. You have a right under federal law to one free credit report each year from each of the credit reporting agencies.  In addition, the three national credit reporting agencies recently announced that they will be making free credit reports available on a weekly basis until April 2021.

To request a free credit report, visit Annual Credit Report or call (877)-322-8228. You can also request a free report on the websites of the three national credit reporting agencies, Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. However, watch out for websites that claim to offer “free” credit reports, but actually require you to subscribe to a fee-based services in order to obtain the credit report.

Stimulus Payments

The CARES Act directs the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to send emergency stimulus payments (also called "recovery rebates" and "economic impact payments") to individuals to provide for their basic needs.

How much are the stimulus payments?

Eligible adults will receive up to $1,200 (or up to $2,400 for married couples), plus $500 for each child age 16 or under.

Who is eligible to receive stimulus payments?

U.S. residents who are not claimed as a dependent, have a Social Security number, and have adjusted gross income for 2019 of $75,000 for individuals, $112,500 for head of household filers are eligible to receive the full $1,200. Married couples who file jointly and who have an adjusted gross income of $150,000 are eligible to receive $2,400.  Taxpayers will havea their stimulus payments reduced if they earned:

  • Between $75,000 and $99,000 for individuals
  • Between $112,500 and $136,500 for heads of households
  • Between $150,000 and $198,000 for married couples who file jointly.
  • Recipients of Social Security, Railroad Retirement, disability, veterans, or Supplemental Security Income benefits.

What do I need to do to receive a stimulus payment?

Most people do not need to do anything to receive a payment.  No action is needed for:

  • Individuals who filed tax returns in 2018 or 2019.
  • Recipients of Social Security, Railroad Retirement, disability, veterans, or Supplemental Security Income benefits. 

If you did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019, and you do not receive any of these benefits, then you will need to submit an application to the IRS to receive a payment.

How will I receive my stimulus payment?

You can either receive your payment the same way you receive benefits and tax refunds (direct deposit or paper check by mail), or you will receive a pre-paid debit card with your stimulus payment loaded onto it. If you want to change the way you receive your payment, you may be able to so through the IRS.

How can I check on my eligibility for a stimulus payment and the status of my payment? 

You can visit the IRS to look up your eligibility for a payment, expected amount of payment, and status of the payment.

When can I expect to receive my stimulus payment?

Payments have started to go out, but the process is expected to take months:

  • The first wave of 88 million payments (totaling $158 billion) went out in mid-April to the following:
    • Eligible individuals who provided the IRS with bank account information in their 2018 or 2019 returns
    • Recipients of Social Security and Railroad Retirement benefits who receive their benefits by direct deposit
  • Payments to recipients of disability, veteran benefits, and Supplemental Security Income are expected to arrive in mid-May.
  • Paper checks have begun to go out, but due to safety and logistical issues it will likely take the IRS months to send all paper checks.

I think I’m eligible for a stimulus payment but have not yet received one.  What should I do?

  • Visit the IRS to look up the status of your payment.
  • If the IRS website states that your payment has been sent to your bank account, but you haven’t received it, contact your bank. 
  • If the IRS sent the payment to a bank account that is now closed, the bank will return the payment to the IRS, and the IRS will send you a paper check by mail.
  • If the IRS is sending your check by mail, it may take several weeks or even months to arrive.
  • If the IRS website says “payment status not available,” you can review the IRS guidance to learn what the problem may be.

Can a creditor or debt collector take my stimulus payment because of an old debt? 

Creditors, debt collectors, and banks unions should not be able to take (also known as “garnish” or “setoff”) part or all of your stimulus payment to satisfy an old debt, unless that debt was for unpaid child support.

The New York Attorney General’s Office issued guidance regarding garnishment and setoff of stimulus payments.

If you believe your stimulus payment was unlawfully taken, you should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

I got an official-seeming email, phone call, or text message from the IRS asking for my Social Security number or bank account information so they can process my stimulus payment. What should I do?

  • DO NOT RESPOND! This is a scam!
  • Scammers are very effective at creating official-looking communications, but the IRS will never ask you for personal information by email, phone, text, or social media.
  • You should report the scam to the IRS.

I got a debit card in the mail and a letter saying my stimulus payment was loaded onto it. Is this a scam?

No, this is not a scam. The IRS is sending some stimulus payments on a prepaid debit card. The card will come in a plain envelope from “Money Network Cardholder Services” with information and instructions for activation. The front and back of the card should look like this:

stimulus payments envelope stimulus payments on a prepaid debit card

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has information on how to activate your card and avoid having to pay any fees for using it.

If you accidentally threw away your card, you can receive a replacement card by calling (800) 240-8100. The replacement card is free, but expedited processing costs $17.

How can I get more information?

The IRS and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have published and are regularly updating Frequently Asked Questions regarding the stimulus payments.

I’m on Medicaid and live in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Can they take my stimulus check?

  • No! Even if a government program such as Medicaid covers part or all of your nursing home bills, your nursing home cannot take your stimulus payment. 
  • If your nursing home or assisted living facility took your stimulus payment (or tried to take it), you should file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Protecting CARES Act Stimulus Payments from Debt Collectors

Guidance issued by the Attorney General's Office is based on multiple state and federal consumer protection laws and clarifies that any attempt to garnish Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) stimulus funds from New Yorkers will be treated as a violation of these laws.

Under New York law, certain types of property — including public benefits like public assistance, Social Security, and veterans’ and retirement benefits — are exempt from execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process by a judgment creditor seeking to satisfy a monetary judgment. The New York State Court of Appeals has held that exemption statutes "are to be construed liberally in favor of debtors" because exemptions "serve the important purpose of protect[ing] the debtor’s essential needs."

CARES Act payments are similarly aimed at debtors' or borrowers' essential needs and — under this guidance — will therefore be treated and are subject to the same protections as statutorily exempt payments, and will not be subject to garnishment — a legal mechanism that typically involves the "freezing" of funds in a bank account by creditors or debt collectors. The OAG guidance advises banking institutions that CARES Act payments will follow similar legal processes as other public benefits, and any person or entity that garnishes or attempts to garnish these payments will have violated multiple state and federal consumer protection laws.

Reporting Hate Crimes

The OAG has launched a hotline for New Yorkers to report hate crimes and bias-based incidents. The hotline, which will continue indefinitely, comes in the wake of rising reports of harassment and assaults, as well as rhetoric against Asian Americans amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The OAG urges anyone experiencing hate crimes and bias incidences to report them by emailing the OAG’s Civil Rights Bureau at civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or by calling 1-800-771-7755.

Help for Homeowners Who Are Having Trouble Paying Their Mortgage

Forbearances of Mortgage Payments

Forbearance Under the Federal CARES Act (only applicable to federally-backed mortgages)

Forbearance Under New York law (applicable to mortgages that are not federally-backed)

Pause on Foreclosure Court Filings

Be Wary of Scams to “Save Your Home”

Resources for Homeowners

Forbearances of Mortgage Payments

Both federal and state law now permit homeowners to enter into forbearance agreements with their mortgage servicer if they are facing a COVID-related hardship, such as loss of a job. A mortgage servicer is the company that your lender (or the entity that later purchased your loan from your original lender) hires to conduct the day-to-day work of processing mortgage payments, issuing monthly statements, interacting with homeowners, and if necessary, reviewing homeowners for modifications and forbearances.

If you enter into a forbearance agreement, you will not have to make mortgage payments during the period covered by the agreement. However, this does not mean that your payments during this period are forgiven, they will be deferred. A forbearance will not be reported negatively on your credit report and you will not be charged late fees during the forbearance period.  If you are facing a COVID- related hardship, you should reach out to your mortgage servicer as soon as possible to request a forbearance of your monthly mortgage payments - this process is not automatic. Get more information about identifying your mortgage services and their contact information.

Forbearances Under the Federal CARES Act (only applicable to federally-backed mortgages)

If you have a federally-backed mortgage (how do I know if I have a federally-back mortgage?) and have a COVID-19 related hardship, your servicer is required to enter into a forbearance agreement with you that allows you to defer making your monthly mortgage payments for up to one year.

Many servicers will grant forbearances in increments, usually three months at a time. You must contact your servicer by phone or through its website and explain that you have a COVID-related hardship.  No documentation is required, your verbal affirmation is sufficient. If your hardship continues after your forbearance period ends, you must request a new forbearance agreement from your servicer, however, again, you are limited to only 12 months of missed mortgage payments.

How do I know if I have a federally-backed mortgage?

Federally-backed mortgages include the following:

  • Loans that Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac purchased from your original lender.
  • Loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). USDA loans are also known as Rural Development (RD) or Rural Housing Service (RHS) mortgages.
  • Reverse mortgages insured by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which are called Home Equity Conversion Mortgages or HECMs.

To find out if you have a federally-backed mortgage, call your mortgage servicer or check your mortgage statement, which sometimes lists the loan type. For Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac you can also check online or call.

Fannie Mae or call 1-800-2FANNIE (8am to 8pm EST)

Freddie Mac or call 1-800-FREDDIE (8am to 8pm EST)

Forbearance under New York law (applicable to mortgages that are not federally-backed):

The New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) has issued a directive to mortgage servicers operating in New York directing them to grant forbearances of up to three months (90 days) to borrowers who have a COVID-related financial hardship. This will allow you to defer up to three months (90 days) of payments.

You must contact your mortgage servicer - by phone or through its website - to request a forbearance.  Your servicer may ask you to submit documentation of your hardship to approve your forbearance request. Servicers are also prohibited from reporting late payments to credit agencies, waive late fees and online payment fees for 90 days, and allow mortgagors an additional 90-day grace period to complete trial loan modifications. 

How do I ask for a forbearance?

Visit your mortgage servicer’s website or call your mortgage servicer if you think you will have trouble paying your mortgage and inform them that you cannot make your payment because of a financial hardship related to COVID-19. If you call, make sure to request forbearance.  

How do I know who my mortgage servicer is and how do I contact the servicer?

Look at the last monthly statement you received. The company listed on that statement is your current mortgage servicer. There should also be a customer service number that you can call. However, we strongly encourage you to check your mortgage servicer’s website first. Many mortgage servicers have a special section on COVID-19-related relief on their website, and many are encouraging their customers to reach out electronically because of large call volumes and potential wait times. You may even be able to request a forbearance through their website.

What happens after the forbearance period ends? Must I immediately repay the missed payments?

Missed payments become due when the forbearance period expires, and you will need to agree with your mortgage servicer in advance on the terms of repayment. However, there are a variety of rules and programs that require your servicer to work with you to help you get back on track. The specific rules vary depending on who owns, insures, and/or services your loan.

Your servicer may ask if you can pay back the missed payments as a lump sum at the end of your forbearance plan or spread out the missed payments over a number of months. However, many borrowers affected by the current financial crisis will not be able to repay their missed payments all at once. If you cannot afford those options, you are entitled to ask for further assistance, such as a loan modification, so that you do not default on your loan or risk losing your home to foreclosure.

Depending on who owns, insures, and/or services your loan, your servicer may be able to offer you certain types of loan modifications that are designed to help homeowners who cannot repay all missed payments at once. For example, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA all provide programs that help homeowners get back on track without paying all the missed payments at once. You can find more information about these programs below.

**Post-forbearance options for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans

  • Your servicer is required to offer you one of the three COVID-19-related modifications at the end of the forbearance period if you are unable to pay the missed payments as one lump sum and you were current on your mortgage (or no more than 30 days behind) when the emergency was declared on March 13, 2020. You are not required to submit an application for these COVID-19-related modifications.
  • Extend Modification for Disaster Relief: If you are able to resume your regular monthly payments once your forbearance period is over, but cannot pay back all of your missed payments, your servicer should offer you a modification that will take your missed payments and add them as additional monthly payments at the end of your mortgage.
  • Cap and Extend Modification for Disaster Relief: If you are able to resume your regular monthly payments once your forbearance period is over, but there is an escrow shortage that you cannot afford, then the servicer will add this escrow shortage to your loan balance.
  • Flex Modification: If your hardship is permanent and you are not able to resume your monthly payments at their prior amount, your servicer must review you for a Flex Modification which seeks to lower your monthly mortgage payments.

If you have a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage and believe that you have been unlawfully denied a COVID-19-related modification, please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Visit Fannie Mae for more information on available post-forbearance modifications.

Visit Freddie Mac for more information on available post-forbearance modifications.

**Post-forbearance options for FHA loans

  • If you were current on your mortgage when the COVID-19 emergency was declared on March 13, 2020 (or no more than 30 days behind), but are unable to pay back the missed payments from your forbearance plan as one lump sum when the forbearance is over, your mortgage servicer must offer you a COVID-19 National Emergency Standalone Partial Claim which places the missed payments at the end of the mortgage, due as a lump sum.
  • If you are unable to resume paying your regular monthly mortgage payments at the end of your forbearance, then you may apply for an FHA-HAMP modification. An FHA-HAMP modification seeks to modify your mortgage to create an affordable monthly payment. There is no requirement that you were current on your mortgage at the time the COVID-19 emergency was declared. You can request the help of a free housing counselor in putting together an application by calling call the Home Ownership Protection Program at 1-855-HOME-456 (1-855-466-3456).

If you have an FHA mortgage and believe that you were unlawfully denied a COVID-19 National Emergency Standalone Partial Claim, please file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Visit FHA for more information on its forbearance and post-forbearance options.

**Post-forbearance options for VA loans

  • Mortgage servicers are prohibited from requiring homeowners to pay the missed payments from the forbearance period as one lump sum.
  • If you are able to resume making your pre-COVID-19 monthly mortgage payments at the end of the forbearance, mortgage servicers may place the missed payments at the end of the mortgage as a non-interest-bearing balloon payment.
  • If you are not able to resume making their pre-COVID-19 monthly mortgage payments at the end of the forbearance, or the servicer decided not to offer you the option of making a balloon payment at the end of the loan, the mortgage servicer must review you for all of the VA’s loss mitigation options, including repayment plans, traditional loan modifications, and disaster-related loan modifications.
  • For repayment plans and traditional loan modifications, there is no requirement that you were current on your mortgage when the COVID-19 emergency was declared. However, for the disaster-related loan modifications, you had to have been current (or no more than 30 days behind) on your mortgage when the COVID-19 emergency was declared on March 13, 2020.
  • Visit the VA for more information about its forbearance and post-forbearance options.

**Post-forbearance options for RD or RHS loans (USDA loans)

  • If you are able to resume making your pre-COVID-19 monthly mortgage payments, the mortgage servicer may consider you for either a repayment plan or may extend the loan term for a period that is at least the length of the forbearance.
  • If you are not able to resume making your pre-COVID-19 monthly mortgage payments, the mortgage servicer must consider you for all the USDA loss mitigation options, including its traditional loan modification products.
  • For the USDA’s traditional loan modification productions, there is no requirement that you were current on your mortgage at the time the COVID-19 emergency was declared.
  • Visit the USDA for more information about its forbearance and post forbearance options.

**Post-forbearance options for non-federally-backed loans

  • For those homeowners who do not have a federally-backed mortgage, post-forbearance relief will be dependent on your servicer and the owner of your loan. However, Attorney General James has called upon all mortgage servicers to assure customers that every New York homeowner will be eligible for appropriate long-term and affordable relief to keep them in their homes, regardless of who owns their loan.
  • The Attorney General wants to make sure that mortgage servicers are helping borrowers to resume payments after a hardship related to the COVID-19 crisis. If you are having trouble getting clear information from your servicer, are not getting appropriate assistance with a repayment plan or loan modification, or are being told that you must pay the missed forbearance payments as one lump sum, please let the Attorney General know by filing a complaint.

Pause on Foreclosure Court Filings

New York has also taken steps to pause the foreclosure process in our state courts in order to protect homeowners from losing their home to foreclosure during the COVID-19 crisis. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about this pause on foreclosure proceedings.

I fell behind on my mortgage will I be sued in court?

No. Under Executive Order 202.8, Governor Cuomo has imposed a ban on all foreclosure actions until June 18, 2020.  This applies to all homeowners who have fallen behind in mortgage payments, including ones who fell behind before the declaration of COVID-19 as state and federal emergencies.

Can I be served with a pre-foreclosure notice?

You may receive a pre-foreclosure notice stating the mortgage servicer intends to sue you in foreclosure, but that lawsuit cannot be brought until after June 18, 2020. However, if you do receive this pre-foreclosure notice and you need assistance you can call the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) at 1-855-HOME-456 (1-855-466-3456) for free advice.

I was already sued in foreclosure before the COVID-19 emergency was declared. What happened to my case?

Your case is still in the court system but should not be moving forward. The Office of Court Administration has put a hold on all non-essential court filings until “further notice.” Foreclosure cases are considered “non-essential” cases. This means new foreclosure actions cannot be started, and parties to existing foreclosure actions cannot file any motions or other papers with the court.

I was issued a court date to appear previously and it is coming up. Should I go to court?

No. Under NO circumstance should you go to court at this time. If you are represented by an attorney, you should call your attorney. Some appearances are going forward virtually and you should check in with your attorney.

If you are not represented by an attorney, you should call the court and ask what you should do. You can find the number for the Court by looking up the phone number for the Supreme Court in the county where your home is located.

Be Wary of Scams to “Save Your Home”

Homeowners should always be wary of unsolicited calls where the caller claims to be able to save their home or where they ask for any personal information. Offers to save your home for a fee are fraudulent. Neither the banks, nor HUD-approved housing counseling agencies will charge a fee for assistance. 

To protect yourself from being scammed:

  • Be skeptical of online ads or telephone solicitations that promise they can get you a mortgage modification or save your home from foreclosure. Only your bank or loan servicer can approve a loan modification.
  • Do not give your personal financial information to a solicitor, such as your bank account number, social security number, or the name of your loan servicer. Your bank will already have this information.
  • Never pay an up-front fee for mortgage-related services. It is a violation of New York law to charge upfront fees for such services, and violations should be reported to the Attorney General’s office at 1-800-771-7755.

If you believe you have been scammed by a foreclosure rescue operator or a debt relief organization, submit a complaint to the New York State Attorney General’s Office.

Resources for Homeowners