Q: I own a two-family property in Brooklyn. One tenant hasn’t paid rent since March. I am losing considerable rental income on this large garden unit, and the tenants haven’t made any attempt to pay back rent or negotiate a move-out or payment plan. But I rely on these bills to pay mortgage, taxes and maintenance — I am not an institutional landlord with deep pockets who can weather this. Do I have any legal recourse? How can this go on for so long with no relief?
A: With so many New Yorkers suddenly unable to pay their rent amid the pandemic, state and federal lawmakers have passed multiple eviction moratoriums, including the latest on Dec. 28. But these laws and executive orders have provided little relief for landlords who still have to pay to keep their buildings operating.
The new law in New York halts almost all evictions for at least 60 days, including on leases that have already expired. Tenants who sign a document stating they have experienced a Covid-related hardship can extend the protection until May 1.
The law does offer minimal relief for landlords: It prevents lenders from foreclosing on property owners with 10 units or fewer until May 1, if they have experienced a Covid-related hardship. But they’re still responsible for the mortgage, taxes, water and heating bills.
Try to negotiate some sort of payment plan with your tenants. The legislation delays evictions, but it does not erase the back rent. You could bring a case against your tenant for the unpaid rent now, damaging their credit. Even if you don’t do that, a future owner of the building could sue them. David Skaller, a litigator and partner at the Manhattan law firm Belkin Burden Goldman suggested using that as a negotiating point: If they work out an agreement with you privately, they can avoid court and protect their credit.
If they’ve lost wages and are unable to pay, offer them information about unemployment assistance or other benefits. Perhaps they could pay a reduced rent in exchange for waiving past debt, providing you with some income and them with some financial relief. You could offer to pay them to vacate. Of course, they may not be in a position to move, as a new landlord wouldn’t look favorably on tenants with such a rent history. Or they may be nervous about moving during a pandemic.
Aside from that, you will have to wait and see if future relief bills provide any assistance to help you weather this storm.