The first has been well-publicized. On March 20, as part of his New York State on PAUSE executive order, Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed a 90-day moratorium on all evictions on the state. He said March 30 this was the “fundamental answer” to the question of rent payments during the pandemic, an assertion challenged by tenants rights groups and state legislators.
The second moratorium has not gotten as much publicity. Part of the federal CARES Act, the moratorium bans evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages until July 25 – Thirty-five days longer than New York’s eviction ban.
Properties protected by the federal moratorium include any building with a Frannie Mae or Freddie Mac mortgage, as well as any sort of federally subsidized housing, such as public housing, Section 8 housing, and properties receiving Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
Kingston Ward Nine Alderwoman Michele Hirsch discovered the federal moratorium when researching ways to protect tenants from eviction in her city. She is now trying to make people aware of the separate moratoriums, proposing a local law to alter the city’s existing landlord registry to include whether the property falls under the federal moratorium.
The proposed law would enable the city to send out a form to all landlords on the registry asking if their mortgage would fall under the longer moratorium.
The law would serve to notify landlords and tenants about the different moratoriums, Hirsch said, and would assure that “we’re thinking about tenants, and talking about tenants, and they’re not being put on the backburner.”
Kingston has been battling rising rents with increasing fervency over the last few years. City leaders and housing advocates say the city is in the midst of a “housing crisis” as the city, once a backwater, sees increasing tourism, second home ownership and downstate media coverage.
It’s easy enough to ascertain some of the properties that would fall under the federal moratorium. Public housing is easy to identify, and rentals that take Section 8 vouchers are publicly listed.
However, figuring out if a landlord’s mortgage is federally backed is more complicated. Though Kingston maintains a landlord registry, there is no information about who holds their mortgage.
About a quarter of mortgages in the U.S. are federally backed Frannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans, Hirsch said, but she could not estimate the proportion in Kingston, as there was not an accessible listing.
There have been attempts to compile a database of federally backed mortgages after the federal moratorium was passed. A database compiled by Seattle Times Reporter Katherine Khashimova Long suggests such Kingston complexes as Skytop Village Apartments, Barmann Avenue Apartments and Fairview Gardens have federally backed mortgages and would fall under the longer moratorium.
Kingston Common Council Majority Leader Reynolds Scott-Childress described the law when presenting it to the council’s Laws and Rules Committee Monday night, saying it was merely informing tenants to rights already bestowed upon them by the CARES Act.
“This information would help out not only the landlord, so they know what they need to do to make sure they’re complying, but it would also help those tenants who are finding themselves in a serious situation,” he said. “It would let them know what their powers are, and I think this is really crucial for people who are facing dilemmas with their housing in a very difficult time.”
Fifth Ward Alderman Dan Tallerman brought up concerns the proposed law would potentially drive away residential developers when the nascent law was being discussed at a special Housing Committee meeting last week. However, he voted to move the law to the full Common Council Tuesday night as part of a unanimous vote.
Hirsch said the law could go to a vote in early June, but she would push for it to be voted upon earlier if an emergency Common Council meeting was called beforehand.
However, much of the law’s purpose was simply to educate landlords and tenants about the little-known second eviction date, Hirsch said.
Part of this will be accomplished through a notification going out prior to the law’s passing. The notification will be mailed in the near future to all renters on the landlord registry informing them of the differing moratoriums and advising them to take note of what kind of mortgage they have.
Hirsch said she has already heard of problems regarding landlords during the pandemic.
“I know there have been some pretty aggressive landlords harassing tenants,” she said.
Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan announced the creation of a COVID-19 Tenant Protection Unit April 22 to investigate landlords who might take advantage of the pandemic. During the announcement, he said some landlords were harassing tenants, mentioning a commercial landlord who had locked out a business owner who had been making personal protective equipment.
Both moratoriums do not in any way erase or suspend rent, and tenants rights advocates fear this could cause mass evictions once they run out, and three months’ rent is due.
Thankfully, a change in state law prior to the pandemic gives local courts the ability to give tenants an additional six months to pay the back rent as long as they stay current on subsequent payments. The back rent would be paid into an escrow account.
State legislators are considering several bills to alleviate the financial stress on renters from the COVID-19 shutdowns. A resolution supporting one of these bills, which would partially subsidize rent through a voucher program, is being voted on by the Common Council Tuesday night.
Kingston has been struggling with an explosion in the rental market in recent years. The city attempted to introduce rent stabilization when the program became available to upstate communities last year. The city ultimately did not qualify after a study asserted there were not enough unoccupied rentals for the municipality to be considered rent stressed.
Rents in surrounding Ulster County rose 47 percent from 2002-2017, according to a 2017 county Rental Housing Survey.