New York State has enacted a number of temporary emergency measures designed to assist individuals who are financially suffering during this time. New York State’s Department of Financial Services has enacted protections for insurance policy holders (auto, home, renters, etc.) who have difficulty paying premiums due to COVID-related financial hardships. These regulations include waiver of late fees for premiums and prohibitions on submitting negative information to credit reporting bureaus for late or missed payments. Additionally, if an individual can show that they are unable to pay a premium due to a COVID-related hardship, they are eligible to repay that amount over a 12-month period rather than having to pay the entire amount all at once. Individuals interested in this relief should contact their insurance carriers for more information.
New York has created waivers and special eligibility protections for public assistance for people who are affected by COVID-19. This includes cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance, Family Assistance and Safety Net programs, Medicaid health insurance, and SNAP (food stamp) benefits. To apply for these programs, please contact your local Department of Social Services (DSS) office by phone or electronically (see section on status of government offices for contact information). Alternatively, you can apply for benefits online here: https://otda.ny.gov/programs/applications/2921.pdf. HEAP’s Cooling Assistance Component (CAC) has also extended its benefits. Now, households that reside in public housing with heat included in their shelter allowance will also be eligible for CAC benefits. Additionally, the medical documentation requirement for CAC may be waived for individuals who are unable to get the documents due to COVID-19. Contact information for HEAP offices can be found at https://otda.ny.gov/programs/heap/contacts/. Finally, the application period for regular benefits and emergency benefits under HEAP has been extended through August 31, 2020, or until the available funds are exhausted. Online applications for state benefits can be made at myBenefits.ny.gov.
Additionally, individuals who lose their health insurance through job loss can apply for health insurance on NY State of Health (including private plans and Medicaid benefits, if qualified) at any time, not just during the special enrollment period. NY has extended the special enrollment period for people to purchase health insurance for any reason through August 31st.
New York State has also enacted a number of protections to ensure that people will have access to basic services during the outbreak. Governor Cuomo has ordered that utility services (heat, electricity, and water) be prohibited from shutting off your service due to nonpayment until further notice. This means that your utilities cannot be shut off for the time being, even if you can’t afford to pay for them. Landlords are also prohibited by NYS law from engaging in any “self help” eviction methods, such as locking a tenant out of their property, removing the tenant’s belongings from the property, or disconnecting utility services, as a result of your failure to pay rent. The prohibition on self-help eviction methods is permanent in New York.
As of June 22, 2020, evictions for residential and commercial tenants for reasons other than nonpayment of rent are allowed to be filed by e-filing or by mail. However, these filings must include a statement from the attorney that he/she has reviewed all current state and federal laws, emergency declarations, executive orders, and other regulations regarding evictions during COVID-19 and believes in good faith that this eviction is allowed to go forward. It also must include a form notice to tenants in English and in Spanish informing them that they may be entitled to additional time to respond to the eviction filing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This form notice contains a phone number and website that tenants may consult for additional information. This form notice is published by the NYS court system, and has separate versions for NYC and non-NYC eviction proceedings.
On July 1, 2020, a new law went into effect in NYS that prohibited judges from granting evictions at any point during the COVID emergency (defined as between March 7, 2020 and the time at which all restrictions on business operation, capacity, and non-essential gatherings are lifted in that county) against tenants or other lawful occupants for nonpayment of rent. This law considers several factors in determining whether a tenant or occupant has a financial hardship. These factors include the difference between the tenant/occupant’s pre-COVID and current income levels, whether the tenant/occupant qualifies for unemployment or public assistance, whether the tenant/occupant has liquid assets (cash or savings), and any other factor that the judge deems relevant. If your landlord serves you with an eviction notice and you feel that you are suffering a financial hardship, you should raise the financial hardship as a defense at the court hearing. You may also want to inform your landlord (or their attorney, if one is listed on the eviction notice) that you have a financial hardship to see if other arrangements can be made. Keep in mind that many courts are not scheduling hearings for evictions at this time, and your landlord cannot legally remove you from the premises without holding a court hearing, so you do not have to leave your home until a judge orders it. This does not mean that you do not have to pay rent, or that your rent will be forgiven for the months you do not pay it – under current law, any unpaid rent will need to be paid back eventually. Under the law, you’re only protected from being physically removed from your home by your landlord for nonpayment of rent.
Landlords are prohibited from charging late fees for rent that is not paid for any rent due dates that fall between March 20, 2020 and August 20, 2020. Tenants may also use their security deposit to pay back rent, and will be allowed to repay the deposit over time. If you wish to use your security deposit for this purpose, it must be by written agreement (paper or email). The repayment of the security deposit will be in monthly payments of 1/12th the amount of the security deposit until it is repaid in full, and these payments cannot become due and owing for at least 90 days after the security deposit is used toward back rent. Further, if your landlord’s mortgage on a rental property is Federally-backed (including HUD, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, rural program vouchers, or VAWA programs), the landlord is prevented from commencing eviction proceedings against you for 120 days from the date on which the Federal CARES Act (stimulus program) was enacted (March 27).
On July 16, New York began accepting applications for its COVID Rent Relief program. This program provides rent assistance money paid directly to a household’s landlord. In order to qualify, households must have experienced a loss in income, and must have been paying more than 30% of the household’s gross income toward rental expenses before March 1st. This rental assistance does not need to be repaid. For additional information about the qualifications for this grant or to apply for rent relief, please visit https://hcr.ny.gov/RRP or call 1-833-499-0318. The application period will be open until July 31, 2020. Funds will be distributed to households prioritized by those with greatest economic needs, and are not given out on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Mortgage foreclosure proceedings may be filed in state courts by e-filing or mail filing, but no court appearances will take place in foreclosure actions until further notice. This means that, even if a mortgage foreclosure is filed against you, it will not go forward until the courts or New York State deem otherwise. New mortgage foreclosure actions must contain a statement from the attorney that the attorney has reviewed all applicable state/Federal laws and believes that the foreclosure is permissible, and must contain a form notice in English and Spanish notifying the borrower that they have additional time to file. These form notices are available from the New York State court website. The exceptions to the prohibition on court appearances in foreclosure actions are matters in which lenders want to sell a property that is vacant, matters that the landlords want to discontinue, and matters where both parties are represented by counsel. In actions where both parties have attorneys, these may be calendared for virtual settlement conferences only. Individuals experiencing a financial hardship related to COVID-19 can ask for a 12-month forbearance on mortgage payments from all federally-guaranteed mortgage programs (HUD, FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). You do not need to be diagnosed with COVID-19 to qualify; a hardship such as losing your job will qualify for this program. During this forbearance period, lenders are not allowed to report changes in status or nonpayment to credit reporting agencies. They are also not allowed to accrue late fees during this period, and must work with borrowers to establish an affordable repayment plan once the forbearance ends. Mortgage borrowers who are interested in a forbearance or other hardship relief should contact their mortgage servicer (the company that they communicate with most often, usually the one to which they send payments).
Although not required to do so by the government, Charter/Spectrum has pledged not to turn off internet services for nonpayment during this crisis situation. Charter/Spectrum has also offered free internet services for 60 days to households that do not already have them if the household has students (K-12 or college) who are home from school due to COVID-19 school closures. Charter/Spectrum will waive installation and setup charges for this service, but the household must cancel the service within 60 days to avoid charges after the 60 day period is over.
If your driver’s license, non-driver ID, or vehicle registration is set to expire after March 1, the DMV has temporarily suspended the expiration of these documents. You can still renew them online if possible, but you can also wait to renew them until physical DMV offices re-open without penalty. Many DMV offices are accepting appointments for services as New York continues to reopen. If your motor vehicle inspection expired on March 1 or later, the expiration date has been extended. No end date has yet been specified for these extensions.