NYC Rent Relief Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

The PropertyClub Team; artwork by @raddingtonfalls
Mar 31st 2020
With April 1st right around the corner, many renters have no choice but to withhold their rent this month to pay for food, medications, or other bills amid the coronavirus pandemic. As such, calls for lawmakers to cancel rent payments are mounting. Some tenants are considering rent strikes or planning protests to send a message to elected officials.

While the situation seems to be getting grimmer by the day, with unemployment claims obliterating records last week, just yesterday, at a press conference, Governor Andrew Cuomo insisted that he has already addressed this problem. Specifically, earlier this month, New York State suspended eviction for commercial and residential tenants for 90 days. This state-wide policy protects tenants from being evicted at least until mid-June. However, tenants who miss rent payments in those 90 days are still responsible for paying back their landlords for any missed amount. The moratorium essentially pushes back the date when tenants can be evicted; however, it does not provide any relief whatsoever to the financial obligations of tenants that are still accruing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Essentially, the only way to address the financial problems for renters is to provide some type of rent relief or forgive rent payments altogether. As such, advocates stress that without additional rent relief, thousands of New Yorkers will face immediate eviction, once the moratorium is over, adding to New York City’s homelessness crisis. 

At least one lawmaker disagrees. Specifically, Queens lawmaker, State Sen. Michael Gianaris says, the eviction moratorium only prolongs the inevitable and still leaves renters vulnerable. However, under his recently proposed bill, both residential and commercial tenants who have lost income due to Coronavirus, would not have to pay rent for at least 90 days. Additionally, the bill provides mortgage relief to landlords of qualifying tenants. 

NYC local offices have proposed new legislation to allow New York City tenants would be able to use existing security deposits to pay for April’s rent, to help ease the financial blow from the coronavirus pandemic. Tenants could opt into the program or elect to purchase a low-cost insurance option to provide tenants with a little cushion.

What Should Tenants Do in the Next 90 Days?

Tenants have some legal rights during these hard times. Overall, commercial and residential tenants can’t be evicted in the next 90 days, because of the New York State moratorium on evictions. Additionally, with the housing courts being closed indefinitely, state-wide, landlords can’t even file new court cases against delinquent tenants at this time. So, the important thing is not to panic and be transparent with your landlord. If you’ve lost your job or your business income has been affected due to the coronavirus, it is best to let your landlord and management company know immediately and try to develop a plan. Overall, tackle the issue head-on and don’t bury your head in the sand. It is best to have a conversation with your landlord instead of being standoffish about the situation. 

Additionally, providing documentation to your landlord about your job loss (or loss of business income) will help your landlord should they need to ask for assistance from its mortgage lender. Specifically, New York State has authorized 90-day mortgage relief for New York property owners affected by the coronavirus. As such, any documentation that you can provide will theoretically help your landlord’s case to defer its mortgage payments. 

If You Have the Funds, Try to Negotiate a Discount

The bottom line is If you can afford to pay something towards your rent, it’s probably in your best interest to pay it so that your rent bill won’t be as high in 90 days. Every little bit helps. But you can certainly use the situation to negotiate a temporary discount. Remember that your landlord’s biggest fear should be you not paying any rent at all for 90-days, and negotiating a reasonable discount will likely be in both of your interests, especially considering it is still unlikely for a rent relief/rent suspension bill to pass, especially without Governor Cuomo’s support. Remember that if you plan on negotiating your rent, be prepared to make an immediate payment. Your landlord will likely be far more responsive if you offer to pay a reduced rent right away as opposed to negotiating a payment plan. 

Be Reasonable with Your Requests

Keep in mind that while you’re hurting, your landlord may also be in a bad situation and that they might not be receptive to a really poor offer. One negotiating tactic is to simply explain your situation and ask them what they can do. This way, you put the ball in their court, and create an opportunity for them to offer more relief than what you might otherwise ask for. While it may be rare, there have been reports of landlords providing 50% discounts or waiving rents for the entire month. If you do have to negotiate a discount, however, a good starting point would be a 20-25% monthly discount. If they accept, make sure to get everything in writing, and be ready to submit payment quickly. 

No matter what you do, you must remember that you owe your monthly rent under your rental contract/lease, unless or until the legislature suspends rent payments. As long as your landlord has been providing you a habitable place to reside, you owe the rent, and the current global pandemic, unfortunately, doesn’t cancel or void this obligation. However, if your landlord is refusing to offer essential services or not offering you a habitable place to live, this is considered an emergency, and you can contact 311 for relief.

Additionally, once this pandemic is over, the city offices providing emergency rental assistance should be back up and running. You can seek help or a loan from the city to pay any back rent that you may owe.