Attorney General James Provides Guidance to Law Enforcement Group on Evictions During COVID-19 Pandemic
Law Enforcement Handling of Eviction Warrants Established by
Emergency Evictions and Foreclosure Prevention Act
NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today issued guidance to the New York State Sheriffs’ Association that provides key reminders regarding law enforcement's role in the eviction process during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health crisis.
On December 28, 2020, the COVID-19 Emergency Evictions and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 was signed into law, providing protections for tenants at risk of eviction, including clarification for law enforcement officials carrying out evictions. The law allows tenants to get an automatic stay of eviction in all cases through May 1, 2021 by completing and sending a hardship declaration to their landlord, the court, a sheriff, marshal, or city constable. The law also makes all eviction warrants — those currently issued and those that will be issued — defective unless they contain specific language referencing the hardship declaration.
“As the financial instability spurred by the coronavirus continues, it is imperative for the state to enforce laws that protect New Yorkers from unlawfully losing their homes,” said Attorney General James. “My office remains willing and able to assist local sheriffs and law enforcement departments as they familiarize themselves with the new law, which they are charged with enforcing.”
Attorney General James highlights the following reminders regarding hardship declarations:
- A tenant is allowed to provide a declaration to their landlord in English (or their primary language) at any point of the eviction process.
- The tenant may also provide the declaration to the court and/or the person that is evicting them (i.e. sheriff, marshal, city constable).
- Upon receipt of a declaration, landlords are prohibited from starting a new eviction case or continuing with an existing eviction case until at least May 1, 2021.
- The declaration should state that the tenant has either had an income loss; increased living costs related to essential work or health impacts (including from being unable to secure moving expenses); the inability to obtain employment or earn income due to responsibilities to care for children or elderly, disabled, or sick family members; or financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Additionally, hardship may include that the tenant, or someone in their household, will suffer a significant health risk of becoming ill from COVID-19 due to an underlying medical condition, if forced to move from their home.
- A “significant health risk” related to contracting COVID-19 for a tenant or occupant is defined under the law as being over the age of 65, having a disability, or having an underlying medical condition, which may include, but is not limited to, being immunocompromised.
Upon receipt of a declaration, law enforcement officials are prohibited from evicting the tenant and occupants, and instead, must notify the court that a declaration has been received. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) encourages sheriffs and other law enforcement officers who execute eviction warrants to provide declarations to all occupants when engaged in an eviction. The OAG continues to actively monitor housing practices throughout the state to ensure that unlawful evictions do not occur. The OAG has already sent cease and desist letters to landlords throughout the state who have unlawfully threatened tenants with eviction amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Attorney General James issued unlawful eviction guidance to law enforcement departments, and to New Yorkers highlighting how to navigate tenant issues related to COVID-19. Threats of eviction are not only illegal, but also damaging to the well-being of New Yorkers.