Attorney General James Issues Tenant Guidance for New Yorkers During Coronavirus Pandemic

Office of the Attorney General Provides Guidelines,
Shares Resources, and Reminds Tenants of Rights

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today issued guidance to New Yorkers highlighting how to navigate tenant issues related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).  

New York residents are under an order by the state to remain in their homes. Beginning March 20, 2020, all evictions across New York State were suspended until June 19, 2020, and the courts are not accepting any new eviction or foreclosure cases. Threats of eviction are not only illegal, but also damaging to the well-being of New Yorkers.  

“Let me be clear: It is illegal for landlords to threaten eviction for tenants who are unable to pay rent due to the impact of COVID-19,” said Attorney General James. “No New Yorker should live in fear of having their home taken away from them at a time of extreme duress. Consistent access to safe and stable housing is of the utmost importance right now, and I encourage tenants who believe they are victims of harassment or discrimination by landlords to contact my office." 

Attorney General James offers the following highlights for the rights of tenants during the COVID-19 crisis in New York State:

  • In New York State, no County Sheriff, City Marshal, or City Constable may currently perform an eviction, even if there is an existing warrant.
    • If a New York State Sheriff attempts to evict you, you should contact the Sheriff’s office and then your local County office’s general number to report 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 to report 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 to report a violation of the Governor’s Executive Order.
       
    • If a Landlord locks you out or tries to evict you, also known as “self-help evictions," which are unlawful in New York State, you should call 911 and show the police officer identification, lease, or public utility bill 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 the Housing Court in your borough to file an emergency petition to be restored to your apartment.
  • Landlords cannot participate in “rent gouging,” by increasing rent in order to capitalize on the crisis.
    • 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 percent for a 1 year renewal and 2.5 percent for a 2 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 percent.
      • 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 years.

    • 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.
       
    • 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.
  • Landlords cannot withhold essential services over failure to pay rent.
    • A landlord’s failure to provide essential services such as hot water or electricity is a breach of the warranty of habitability.
       
    • 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. Outside NYC, 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.
  • New York state anti-harassment 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.      
    • Landlords are prohibited from interfering with tenants’ privacy, comfort, and quiet enjoyment of their homes. It is a Class A Misdemeanor for a landlord to threaten a tenant, change a tenant’s locks, or otherwise try to force a tenant from her apartment without a court order, whether that tenant is paying rent or not. 
       
    • Landlords are also prohibited from engaging in disruptive construction or renovation projects in your building that interfere with your health, safety, and use of your apartment. These actions could be considered harassment. 
  • Landlords cannot discriminate against or evict a tenant because the tenant, or someone the tenant lives with, has contracted or had COVID-19, or the landlord thinks that the tenant has 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 the federal, state, and city laws, including the New York State Human Rights Law. 
       
    • Landlords also cannot discriminate against a tenant or treat a tenant differently or unfairly because of their immigration status or because the tenant is from, or looks like the tenant is from, a country where there is a serious COVID-19 outbreak.
       
    • Landlords cannot refuse to protect a tenant if the tenant is being harassed by other tenants because the tenant is from, or looks like the tenant is from, a country where there is a serious COVID-19 outbreak. 
       
    • 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 the coronavirus. Instead, a landlord can post a notice stating that someone within the building has contracted the coronavirus without identifying the person who got ill.
    • If you have questions or believe you have been a victim of harassment or discrimination of this kind, contact the OAG Civil Rights Bureau by emailing civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or calling 800-771-7755.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) continues to actively monitor landlords throughout the state to ensure that no tenant is being harassed or discriminated against and will take appropriate action to protect tenants and all New Yorkers. All COVID-19 guidance can be found on the OAG website.

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