In an unsigned 6-3 ruling on Thursday evening, the right-wing United States Supreme Court struck down the section of New York State’s eviction moratorium which allows tenants to declare financial hardship without having to provide supporting documentation, declaring that “this scheme violates the Court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case.”
The suit was brought by “smaller” landlords who argued that they too have suffered financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Court’s decision comes as billions of dollars in federal rent relief funds are finally beginning to be distributed to cover 15 months of back rent owed to landlords throughout the Empire State, and although its eviction moratorium expires on August 31st, property owners are barred from filing eviction cases for one year if they accept public funds. Additionally, any existing cases are automatically stayed once the applications for relief are submitted to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (ODTA).
But the program’s slow rollout and glitchy web portal have tenant advocates worried that the Court’s injunction may result in some families losing their homes and have called for changes to the existing provisions.
“We call on the NYS legislature to return to work and amend the law to allow a hearing on the tenant declaration of hardship. We further call to extend the eviction moratorium until the state gives out all of the $2.3 billion in rent relief money,” said the Legal Aid Society in a statement on Thursday. “Since tenants in New York State have suffered immensely during COVID-19, they will have no trouble proving hardship and satisfying the supreme courts’ mandate. The state legislature can make this minor fix and prevent thousands of New York residents from losing their homes.”
Democratic New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul vowed to fight for an extension on the state’s eviction ban.
“No New Yorker who has been financially hit or displaced by the pandemic should be forced out of their home,” she said. “As New York State’s next Governor, I look forward to working with the Legislature to quickly address the Supreme Court’s decision and strengthen the eviction moratorium legislation. I will work with our partners in the Legislature to help get the funding available to those in need as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer issued a blistering dissent of Thursday’s ruling on behalf of himself and Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Sonya Sotomayor. The jurist, who turns 83 on Sunday, contended that the emergency protections were necessary because of the ongoing public health crisis.
“The New York Legislature is responsible for responding to a grave and unpredictable public health crisis. It must combat the spread of a virulent disease, mitigate the financial suffering caused by business closures and minimize the number of unnecessary evictions,” Breyer wrote. “The Legislature does not enjoy unlimited discretion in formulating that response, but in this case, I would not second-guess politically accountable officials’ determination of how best to ‘guard and protect’ the people of New York.”
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Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.