New Yorkers cannot be evicted for failing to pay their rent amid the coronavirus crisis, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Thursday, as he announced a 60-day extension through Aug. 20 of a moratorium that was scheduled to end in June.
With hundreds of thousands out of work and shuttered businesses watching their revenues plummet, Cuomo said he was extending the moratorium to residential and commercial properties, hoping to keep families from ending up on the streets or businesses shutting down for good.
The executive order will be expanded as well to protect renters from late fees and to allow tenants to pay with their security deposits, which they can later replenish, Cuomo said.
Under the rule, “You cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing, held at New York Medical College in Westchester County. “I hope it can give families a deep breath” as the state moves to start reopening its economy.
A “Pause” order shutting down nonessential businesses and schools expires May 15.
“This just takes that issue off the table until August 20,” Cuomo said. “On a human level, I don’t want to see people and their children being evicted at this time … through no fault of their own.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cheered the extended moratorium.
“YES! Yes! Yes! Yes!” he tweeted Wednesday.
“From putting security deposits towards rent to expanding eviction bans, we’ve been pushing Albany to take bold action for tenants. Thank you @NYGovCuomo for heeding the call,” the mayor wrote, tagging Cuomo’s Twitter account.
Cuomo said that as he travels the state, “The number one issue people talk to me about probably is rent,” and not being able to pay it.
Tenants, their advocates and real estate analysts had mixed reactions to the extension. Some praised it as needed relief, others called for an outright cancellation of rent, while others said the order is unfair to landlords who have bills to pay, too.
Cuomo defended the extraordinary measure. “People literally are worried about being able to pay rent. You don’t work for two months and that rent bill keeps coming in. You know, it’s not that the bill payers, the bill collectors have taken a vacation. Bill collectors work, right? They still send the bill and you still get collection notices.”
The state again saw a decline in the total number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 8,665, Cuomo reported. It marked the first time since late March the figure was below 9,000 and was less than half the peak of nearly 19,000 in early April.
But, Cuomo said, the “down side of the mountain is a much more gentle slope than what we went through going up the mountain,” meaning the virus is not going away as rapidly as it spread.
The number of new coronavirus patients hospitalized was 607, close to the number the day before, but down substantially from the peak of around 3,200 in early April. Cuomo has been troubled that sizable numbers of new cases persist, and has ordered state health officials to figure out why and stamp them out.
The new daily death toll was relatively flat for the fourth straight day, at 231, but again, sharply down from a peak of nearly 800 a day in early April.
Cuomo repeated his contention that New York’s COVID-19 mitigation strategies and cautious, data-driven approach to reopening are working, a contrast to parts of the country that are reopening too quickly, in his opinion, and seeing coronavirus cases rise.
“It is working for us. That’s not just me saying that because I’m the governor,” he said. “You look at what is happening in New York and look at what is happening in the rest of the nation. In New York, the number is coming down, and it is coming down dramatically.”
Health care workers tested
Cuomo relayed what he called some of the best news in a long time during the COVID-19 pandemic: Health care workers are not being infected at a higher percentage than the general population, and sometimes fared better.
The state tested 27,000 health care workers at 25 hospitals and medical facilities in the downstate area to see how many had antibodies indicating they have had COVID-19.
“What we found out is really good news and one of the few positives that I’ve heard in a long time,” he said.
On Long Island, 11.1% of health care workers had been infected, compared with 11.4% of the general population. In New York City, 12.2% had been infected, compared with 19.9% of the general population.
And in Westchester County, 6.8% of the workers had been infected, about half the 13.8% figure for the general population.
The health worker survey results came a day after New York State released initial figures from a survey of people recently hospitalized due to COVID-19, finding many of those made sick by the virus are older, not working and primarily staying at home.
Cuomo said the latest survey “shows everybody how important the masks and the gloves and the sanitizer are, and that they work … Those masks work. They’re working for front-line workers. They’re going to work for people in their day-to-day lives.”
He said he fully expects some parts of the economy to reopen soon after NY Pause ends, “not a floodgate, but it will start, so we can watch what is happening and calibrate,” he said. “Because we don’t want to see those numbers go the other way.”
In Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone said the county on Friday will release a resource guide for businesses on reopening. The guide, located on the county website, will be broken down sector by sector, and include federal and state guidance.
“This is going to help inform us as we plan for reopening Suffolk County,” he said.
Looking ahead also, de Blasio said New York City may limit capacity in parks as the weather warms.
“There are certain parks where just the configuration of the park lends itself to overcrowding, and we’re working on strategies right now to address that,” de Blasio said.
He also said there is no timeline for reopening bars and restaurants — it’s not going to be anytime soon, he indicated — but when it does happen, it would be with limited capacity, and protective equipment like masks and gloves. More outdoor service also might be possible, he said.
On Long Island, Northwell Health on Thursday reported a decrease in COVID-19 patients for the 17th straight day. Its COVID-19 patient count is down 62% from the peak on April 8.
In Nassau, County Executive Laura Curran said COVID-19 hospitalizations were down by 61 to 913 — the 21st consecutive day of decline.
“That is big news because, number one, it is the lowest increase in a very, very long time and it also meets the new state criteria for reopening if we keep going forward for a few days,” she said. “We know that this virus has thrown a few curveballs at us, so we don’t know what the future looks like, but this is one very, very good number.”
Nassau had 243 new coronavirus cases, for a total of 37,593 by Wednesday, according to state figures released Thursday. Suffolk had 349 new cases, for a total of 35,892, while New York City had 1,865 new cases, for a total of 180,216.
The state reported an additional 251 deaths in Suffolk from COVID-19, apparently combining two days worth of data and other cases that had not been previously reported, for a total of 1,547. Nassau reported 86 new deaths in those two days ending Wednesday, for a total of 1,904.
Bellone, noting that the deaths continue to mount, said many of the new deaths were people who had been in nursing homes or assisted living facilities in Suffolk County.
The new total “is an absolutely staggering figure,” Bellone said. “We won’t know the full number until all of this is over and we look back. … The numbers are likely to go higher.”
Struggling with the rent
Cuomo’s rent moratorium generated mixed reactions.
Reyna Andreu, 23, a Westbury resident, said the governor’s announcements were positive, but offered insufficient relief, particularly for communities with many immigrants who may not qualify for unemployment or other government assistance.
“The real answer here is to cancel rent and mortgage,” Andreu said. “A lot of people are not working. So they can’t pay this month, and then they can’t pay next month, and so on, and it keeps accumulating. And when they do go back to work, they have a lot of debts … Even though the landlord can’t kick them out of the house, that’s not the real answer.”
Andreu stopped working in the catering industry because she could not leave her two children home alone. She has been burning through her savings and worries about the $850 she will need to pay in June for the room she rents in Westbury with her godmother.
“I am not that confident about paying my rent in June,” Andreu said. “Gov. Cuomo needs to do something for our community, and he needs to do it now.”
The added protection from eviction comes as a relief to many Long Islanders who have lost their jobs and are facing the Island’s notoriously high rents, especially parents who cannot work since schools are closed, said Peter Elkowitz, chief executive of the Long Island Housing Partnership in Hauppauge.
Without that protection, he said, “You have a very good possibility that people would become homeless … It really is a sad situation.”
The problem is especially severe for families, since there are so few rental properties larger than one or two bedrooms, so if a family gets evicted, it can be difficult to find a new place to live, he said.
Many renters are struggling to pay for food and seeking assistance with utility bills, and do not have the money to pay rent, so they’re falling behind, he said.
Once the stay on evictions gets lifted, he said, renters will need assistance to catch up on debts that could easily exceed $10,000 even if a renter only misses four months of payments, he said.
The rent relief has detractors, though. Edward Filemyr, a real estate attorney based in Manhattan, said it is not fair to expect landlords to pay their own bills — mortgages, property taxes, maintenance, repairs and staffing — without collecting rent.
The state, he said, is “saying, ‘This private party has to pay the cost for a social problem,’ and I think there’s a problem with that from an equity point of view.” After all, he said, governments are continuing to collect property taxes.
He said there also could be legal problems with the state asserting that tenants can use their security deposits for rent, and that landlords cannot impose late fees, regardless of what’s in the lease agreements. “The government can’t just say, ‘We don’t like the terms of this contract,’” he said.
NYC conducting antibody survey
New York City will conduct a coronavirus antibody survey citywide via blood testing of the public — 140,000 tests — over the next few weeks, de Blasio said.
The statistics will help the city understand how many people may have been infected with the virus, and possibly have immunity from it.
The number of coronavirus hospital admissions and the number in ICUs dropped over the past 24 hours in the city, he said.
Those and other indicators must decline for 10 to 14 days for the city to begin to ease restrictions.
“We have progress. It’s not perfect progress, but it’s damn close, so this is a good day,” de Blasio said. “I want to see even better days, and then I want us to string ‘em together, because that’s our pathway to opening up, reducing restrictions and taking the steps towards a restart.”