Attorney General James Provides Direction for Law Enforcement on Unlawful Evictions During COVID-19 Pandemic
Law Enforcement Handling of Illegal Evictions Established by
New York’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James provided direction to law enforcement departments throughout New York state so they have clear guidance on how to protect the public from unlawful evictions both during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health crisis and into the future.
There is a rising concern that some landlords might begin to take matters into their own hands and attempt to evict tenants themselves in the absence of a court order. New York’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 created new protections for tenants, including a new provision that makes it a crime (a Class A misdemeanor) for a person to either evict an occupant from their home without a court order, or to fail to restore an occupant who was evicted without court order. This new law empowers law enforcement to intervene when encountering unlawful evictions, which provides a welcomed and timely additional layer of protection for tenants as they grapple with the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 public health crisis.
“As the coronavirus rages on, many individuals are experiencing unprecedented financial instability, and it is important for everyone to understand the protections in place to guard against unlawful evictions at such a vulnerable time,” said Attorney General James. “I will continue to work with law enforcement to ensure that no New Yorker is illegally removed from their home during this pandemic.”
Attorney General James highlights the following directions for law enforcement responding to unlawful evictions across New York state:
- It is an unlawful eviction if a person evicts or attempts to evict a person by:
- Using or threatening the use of force;
- Interrupting or discontinuing essential services (i.e. heat, water, electricity);
- Removing the occupant’s possessions from the dwelling unit;
- Removing the door at the entrance to the dwelling unit;
- Removing, plugging, or otherwise rendering the lock on the entrance door inoperable;
- Changing the lock on an entrance door without supplying the occupant with a key; and
- Any other action which prevents or is intended to prevent the occupant from the lawful occupancy of the dwelling unit, which interferes or intends to interfere with the occupant’s use and occupancy of the dwelling unit, or induces the occupant to vacate.
The law protects any person who occupies a dwelling unit (which can be an apartment, a room, or a bed) through a written or oral lease, or who has occupied the unit for at least 30 days from the unlawful eviction, including tenants whose leases have expired, family members who have been in the dwelling unit for at least 30 days, and roommates or other licensees of tenants and occupants who have been in the dwelling unit for at least 30 days.
- Furthermore, the law also requires an owner of the dwelling unit to take all reasonable and necessary actions to restore an occupant who has been unlawfully evicted to their unit. Alternatively, the owner can provide the occupant another habitable unit within the dwelling.
The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) continues to actively monitor housing practices throughout the state to ensure that unlawful evictions do not occur. OAG has sent cease and desist letters to landlords throughout the state who unlawfully threaten tenants with eviction amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Attorney General James recently issued guidance to New Yorkers highlighting how to navigate tenant issues related to COVID-19. New York 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.
In addition to the new protections afforded to tenants in the 2019 Act, additional measures have been implemented via executive orders issued by the governor. All COVID-19 guidance on tenant protections, among other important updates for the public and businesses, can be found on the OAG website.