Supreme Court blocks part of New York’s eviction moratorium

August 16, 2021

On Thursday, August 12, the Supreme Court blocked part of an eviction moratorium in New York State that had been imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic—a move the law’s supporters said might expose thousands to eviction, The New York Times reports.

“This is a very serious setback for our ability to protect tenants in the middle of a pandemic,” said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, a Democrat and one of the sponsors of the moratorium law.

Randy M. Mastro, a lawyer for the landlords who had challenged the law, told the Times that the court’s decision would permit “cases that have been stopped in their tracks by the state moratorium law to proceed so that both landlords and tenants can be heard.”

Still, the court’s order, which was unsigned, stressed that it applied only to a provision that bars the eviction of tenants who file a form saying they have suffered economic setbacks as a result of the pandemic, rather than providing evidence in court.

“This scheme violates the court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case,’” the SCOTUS majority wrote.

The order left other parts of the law intact, including a provision that instructed housing judges not to evict tenants who have been found to have suffered financial hardship.

Other challenges to eviction moratoriums, including one recently imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may reach the court soon. According to the Times, that federal moratorium is on precarious legal ground in light of a ruling in June in which a key justice said it could not be renewed without congressional approval.

It was not clear how many people could immediately be affected by the ruling on Thursday. More than 830,000 households in New York State, the majority of them in New York City, are behind on rent, with a total estimated debt of more than $3.2 billion, according to an analysis of census data by the National Equity Atlas, a research group associated with the University of Southern California.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul (D), who is set to become New York’s next governor in less than two weeks after Governor Andrew M. Cuomo leaves office amid a sexual harassment scandal, said in a statement that she would work with state lawmakers to “quickly address the Supreme Court’s decision and strengthen the eviction moratorium legislation.”

“No New Yorker who has been financially hit or displaced by the pandemic should be forced out of their home,” she said.

The court’s three liberal members dissented from the order. Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for himself and Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, said the law was set to expire in a matter of weeks and was not plainly unconstitutional.

“The New York Legislature is responsible for responding to a grave and unpredictable public health crisis,” Justice Breyer wrote. “It must combat the spread of a virulent disease, mitigate the financial suffering caused by business closures and minimize the number of unnecessary evictions.”

Research contact: @nytimes

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