City Council Unveils New Renter, Small Business Protections for Coronavirus Pandemic

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The New York City Council this afternoon introduced a package of bills that would offer New York City tenants more time to repay rent accrued during the coronavirus crisis, prevent evictions through 2021 and protect commercial businesses from COVID-related harassment by landlords.

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Part of the council’s COVID-19 relief package would prohibit marshals and sheriffs from seizing property and executing money judgments through the end of the state of emergency or through September, whichever is later.  For New Yorkers who have been economically or physically impacted by COVID-19, the protections would last through April 2021. Functionally, this means that court-ordered evictions and debt collections for both residential tenants and businesses would be suspended. While there is no bill specifying a rent repayment plan for residential tenants impacted by the pandemic, the council’s press release argues that suspending the execution of money judgments would allow tenants to repay back rent over a longer timeline without worrying about eviction.

Another bill would levy civil fines of up to $10,000 on landlords who threaten tenants on the basis of their COVID-19 status, being an essential worker or because they receive a rental concession or forbearance. Those actions would constitute harassment under the housing code if the bill passes. 

On the commercial side, the council hopes to protect small businesses by making it harassment to threaten a commercial tenant because they or one of their employees have COVID-19. Civil fines would range from $10,000 to $50,000. A separate proposal would prohibit the enforcement of personal liability clauses in commercial leases and rental agreements if a business defaults on their rent during the coronavirus state of emergency. Threatening to enforce those provisions would qualify as harassment.  

The local body also introduced legislation dubbed ‘an essential worker’s bill of rights,’ which would require companies with more than 100 employees to up the pay for hourly essential workers: $30 per hour for four hours or less, $60 per hour for a shift of four to eight hours and $75 per hour for a shift longer than eight hours. The increased pay would last until the state of emergency is lifted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Other bills would extend paid sick leave to gig workers and prohibit employers of essential workers from firing those employees without just cause.

“We are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis for our City, and mourning the loss of so many neighbors, friends and fellow New Yorkers,” said City Council Speaker Corey Johnson in a statement. “These bills provide relief where it is needed most right now, including protecting tenants from eviction. It’s essential that New Yorkers get the rent cancellation they need, but in the meantime, we need to give renters peace of mind that we won’t let them suffer irreparable harms. We’re also protecting small businesses and essential workers, who have been so hard hit.”