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Confusion reigns over evictions as housing court reopens

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo in May extended but limited the statewide eviction ban

By Georgia Kromrei

As housing court begins to reopen, confusion reigns over whether certain evictions can proceed.

New York City’s top housing court judge on Monday said the state administrative judge’s March order halting evictions statewide still stands — a sharp contrast to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s May order that extended but limited the ban.

The conflicting guidance, which came up during a virtual question and answer session with attorneys this week, has led to confusion and frustration in the legal community.

“Judge Marks’ administrative order says no evictions until further notice, and we don’t have a further notice yet,” said Judge Jean Schneider. “That doesn’t mean you couldn’t get a further notice tomorrow — literally, I believe there is not a resolution of what Judge Marks will do with that process, in terms of execution of the warrant.”

The March 15 order from Judge Lawrence Marks suspended all pending eviction orders statewide “until further notice.” In May, Cuomo limited the ban to cover only evictions for non-payment, where a tenant could prove financial distress as a result of Covid-19. But the court system has not yet issued an administrative order reflecting the governor’s most recent eviction guidance.

A spokesperson for the court said that executive orders supersede any administrative orders from the court, and it was unclear why the confusion had arisen. “No decisions have been made yet,” said Lucian Chalfen, a court representative. “We will wait and see what the Governor decides to do.”

Chalfen did not offer further clarification on Judge Schneider’s remarks but said the court will issue further guidance this week. (Cuomo’s most recent eviction order goes into effect on Saturday, and housing court reopens on Monday.)

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Tenant lawyers say the lack of clarity will lead to a wave of eviction notices and create confusion among some of the city’s more vulnerable populations, including those who do not speak English as a first language and those who do not have attorneys.

“The courts have done no planning on what to do with the thousands of unrepresented tenants who are going to show up in housing court to try to stop their eviction,” said Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney at Legal Aid.

Landlord attorneys are also frustrated by the lack of clarity about whether or not evictions can be started in housing court.

“It would not make sense to open Housing Court for business and then not give it the oxygen to do its job,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, an attorney at his eponymous firm. “Justice Marks will once again do the right thing and clarify the order and allow evictions to proceed, as soon as he realizes he is needed to act.”

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