In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic in general, and the lockdowns in particular, were especially hard on Social Security Disability recipients and other low-income households.
These individuals are also at a higher risk for eviction.
Many low-income families spend almost half their income on rent.
If their income sources dried up even slightly, monthly rent becomes a significant burden.
According to one study, almost a fourth of all tenants missed their June 2020 rent payments.
An even higher proportion said they were uncertain about their July 2020 payments.
Only about a dozen states have eviction moratoriums in place. In many other jurisdictions, judges conduct these hearings via Zoom or via telephone. These alternatives present some challenges.
A significant number of low-income households do not have smartphones or computers or reliable internet service.
Many of these families depend on public libraries and other such places for internet access. During the pandemic, most of these places are closed.
As a result, some tenants are unable to attend their eviction hearings because they do not have the right tools or they are unfamiliar with the technology being used.
Telephone hearings are even worse. Yes, almost everyone has a phone. But telephonic hearings eliminate the face-to-face element altogether. Tenants cannot look landlords in the eye.
One advocacy group claims that the coronavirus outbreak will displace about twenty-five million tenants.
The Eviction Process
Failure to timely pay rent is, by far, the most common basis for eviction.
The procedure varies in different jurisdictions.
Generally, if a tenant is more than about five days late, the landlord sends a notice of acceleration.
This notice informs the tenant of the rent delinquency and gives the tenant an opportunity to cure it. If payment is not made within about two weeks, the landlord usually initiates an eviction action.
Evidence in failure-to-pay evictions is usually straightforward.
The rent was paid on time or it wasn’t. So, if possible, always pay rent via money order, check, electronic payment, or something that leaves a paper trail.
Rules violation evictions are a bit more complex.
Common rules violations include excessive noise, exceeding the occupancy limit, and unauthorized guests.
Normally, the landlord must produce a credible witness who heard a loud noise or saw the number of residents in the dwelling. Telephone hearings effectively disable the tenant’s ability to challenge this evidence.
The next step is usually the same. If a judge sides with the landlord, the tenant must normally vacate the residence immediately. A sheriff or constable forcibly removes tenants who refuse to comply.
It may seem that landlords hold all the cards. But especially in New York, tenants have substantial rights.
Some examples include:
- Health: All dwellings, regardless of the amount of rent, include a warranty of habitability. Generally, this warranty covers things like utility breakdowns and pest infestations. If the dwelling is uninhabitable, and the tenant did not cause the problem, options include rent reduction and lease cancellation.
- Safety: Individual dwelling safety requirements include smoke detectors, deadbolt locks, window guards, and carbon monoxide detectors. Landlords are also responsible for safety in common areas. That means well-lit parking areas, security doors, a lobby attendant for buildings with more than eight units, and elevator mirrors.
- Utilities: In New York, heat and hot water are paramount. The landlord must make heat available between October 1 and May 31. In most cases, the inside temperature must be at least 68 degrees. Running water from a tap or shower head must be at least 120 degrees.
- Individual Rights: Tenants have the right to organize. That includes the right to discuss rent levels and building conditions with other tenants. Furthermore, landlords cannot discriminate against or harass people. Landlords must make reasonable accommodations for disabled tenants. And, landlords cannot retaliate against tenants for asserting their rights.
These rights may be different in other jurisdictions.
But for the most part, tenants’ rights are basically the same.
The coronavirus pandemic is hard, and landlords should not make it harder.
For a free consultation with an experienced civil litigation attorney in New York, contact Napoli Shkolnik PLLC. We do not recover any fees until we win your case.