CANTON — A member of the St. Lawrence County Fair Housing Task Force says some landlords aren’t concerned about back rent owed by tenants during the eviction moratorium. They just want them out of their building.
“They just want the tenants out of their apartments, their single family homes; they just want them out,” Gouverneur Code Enforcement Officer Mike McQuade told task force members Thursday. “That’s the unfortunate part. They’re willing to take that $9,000, $10,000, $12,000 loss just to get these people out of the apartments.”
He said he has heard the same sentiment from several landlords.
“They just want these people out of their homes,” he said.
John Tenbusch, a planner with the St. Lawrence County Planning Department, wondered if relations between landlords and tenants had always been “toxic.”
“Absolutely,” Mr. McQuade said.
He said the tenants often “know the system.”
“When you can tell these tenants that they don’t have to pay, they are going to stop,” he said. “Hypothetically, I have a landlord that’s owed $18,000 in back rent for over a year-and-a-half. How are that landlord and tenant going to agree? That landlord just wants that individual out of the house, take the loss and leave. That’s the difficulty with this moratorium.”
At the same time, Mr. McQuade said, “some of these tenants, when you tell them you don’t have to pay, you see deliveries. I had one the other day. They set up a pool. They haven’t paid rent in six months. That’s where I have the difficulty with this agreement thing between the tenants and landlord. They’re not going to come together. If this started three months ago, you’d have a good chance. You’re talking over a year-and-a-half. That’s a tough sell.”
Courtnie Toms, deputy director of Massena’s Maximizing Independent Living Choices, said in a written report to the task force that one of the problems they face is a refusal by tenants to apply for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.
“Something we did not expect was the refusal by tenants to apply,” she wrote. “We have had many landlords reach out to us to file an application, but their tenants have refused. They have told us they don’t want their landlord to be paid due to interpersonal conflict that happened after the tenant stopped paying rent. We have had a couple landlords refuse to apply because they are trying to evict for nuisance reasons. But, that has been rare. We have had many landlords report that they are unable to contact their tenants about the program.”
During Thursday’s meeting, P.J. Herne, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, provided task force members with an update on the status of evictions in St. Lawrence County. New York’s temporary ban on evictions and foreclosures has been extended until the beginning of next year.
The state’s eviction moratorium bars eviction of residential and commercial tenants who could not pay rent due to financial hardships caused by the pandemic, through Jan. 15, 2022.
However, a measure approved by state lawmakers amended the Emergency Rental Assistance Program’s evictions protections to provide landlords with a path to start eviction proceedings against a tenant who is a nuisance or has inflicted substantial damage to a property, and created a due process mechanism for landlords to challenge a tenant’s declaration of financial hardships.
“The old New York eviction moratorium was going to expire around Aug. 31,” Mr. Herne said. “We saw an uptick in filings (for the ERAP).”
He said they advise clients to make full use of the ERAP. Maximizing Independent Living Choices and the St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services can assist with preparing applications because of new filing requirements to stamp and upload them.
“For our client base, a lot of our clients do not have the technical capabilities to do that,” Mr. Herne said. “They don’t have a computer. They don’t have a scanner. They can’t do those types of things, so we’ve been trying to make full use of both DSS and MILC and assist clients in doing that.”