BUFFALO, NEW YORK (WKBW) — By now, you’ve probably heard about the Lancaster landlord who spray painted the roof of his apartment building saying that his tenants who live there owe thousands in rent.
It’s a recent and extreme example of a common and complicated situation stemming from the state’s eviction moratorium.
“We’re seeing a lot of folks who need to be protected by the eviction moratorium,” said John Washington. Washington is a tenants rights advocate for People’s Action—a national non-profit working to improve the lives of the poor and working class in a variety of ways including housing issues. Washington said many tenants don’t qualify for unemployment and still don’t have any source of income.
“While certain parts of the economy are coming back into function, a lot of people are still out of work.” That’s why Washington supports the moratorium. “People can’t just go work an extra year at a job to make up for it. So, if we want to maintain any stability in our society right now, we have to give people the ability to stay in place,” he said.
“The landlord is just being asked too much at this point,” said Jaime Michelle Cain, a Buffalo area real estate attorney. “You don’t see people going to Wegmans and stealing food off the shelves and having that be ok.”
Cain’s also the “Under One Roof Coalition” leader, a statewide advocacy group aimed at protecting the rights of both landlords and tenants. “This moratorium is getting them (landlords) out of the industry. As a lawyer who practices, I see more contracts for sale coming across my desk for multifamily than ever before. These landlords are needing to make money from the rent to support the foundation of this housing industry.”
New York State Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said it is doing more harm than good. “You’re going to have tenants potentially walking away never paying rent that is owed. You’re going to have landlords left holding the bag. They may walk away or file bankruptcy.”
Some economic forecasters believe the state's policy could backfire and even hurt tenants in the long run -- due to landlords losing properties because of foreclosure, bankruptcy, or they may simply stop renting altogether.
Experts said this could shrink the rental supply -- driving up prices and ultimately making it more difficult for tenants to find homes.
There is another possible solution aside from the moratorium. In December, the state was given more than $2 billion in federal CARES Act funding for rental assistance. The state said it will begin accepting applications June 1. That means it had the money for more than six months, but it wasn't available to those in need.
REPORTER Ali Touhey: Who’s fault is that?
LEADER ORTT: At this point it really has to lay with the governor, with the governor and his executive agency.
“Right now, the state is in its own way. There’s rental assistance money and instead of getting it out to people as fast as possible, they’re trying to figure out who deserves it,” said Washington.
“It’s at the mercy of the governor to open this portal up and we’re still waiting,” added Cain.
The money has a September 30 deadline. If New York doesn’t use at least 65% of those funds, it gets returned to the federal government.
For more information on rental assistance, click here.
To apply online, click here.