Quarter 3 2020, Volume 8 Issue 3

Rental Counseling During COVID-19: A Snapshot of New York City

As COVID-19 brings job losses and health concerns, housing counselors are stepping in to provide meaningful guidance to low- and moderate-income clients whose housing stability may be at risk. New York City was one of the first epicenters of COVID-19 in the United States, and two-thirds of its residents are renters. By counseling tenants on the protections and relief available during COVID-19, housing counselors can help tenants understand their options.

Counselors may assist tenants in navigating a variety of discussions with landlords about issues that arise during COVID-19, such as:

  • The inability to pay rent due to job loss
  • The ability to use security deposits toward rent
  • The lease renewal process
  • How to address building maintenance issues such as sanitizing common areas

Lori Miller from Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica (NHSJ) commented on the importance of rental counseling in New York City during the national emergency: “Counselors are unpacking confusing messages about relief, discussing the importance of continuing to pay rent if the tenant is able, and outlining how tenants' circumstances may change if moratoria expire.”

woman providing counseling over the phone

Counselors should explain how housing relief measures, including state laws, emergency orders, federal moratoria, and guidance from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), protect tenants against eviction. It is important for housing counselors to stay up to date on both state and federal protections during the COVID-19 national emergency so they can educate clients on preserving their housing. For example, the following laws are currently in place in New York:

New York State Protections Federal Protections
  • State Eviction Moratorium: Under Governor’s Executive Orders, an eviction moratorium was in place for all tenants starting on March 20, 2020 through June 19, 2020. The eviction moratorium was continued for the period June 20, 2020 through August 20, 2020 for tenants unable to pay rent due to COVID-19 or who qualify for unemployment.
  • Security Deposits as Rent: By Governor’s Executive Order, security deposits are to be applied to rent by mutual agreement of the landlord and tenant as a means of preventing or addressing rent arrears.

Read more information about New York protections for renters during COVID-19.

  • Federal Eviction Moratorium: FHA’s eviction moratorium applicable to persons in properties secured by FHA-insured mortgages was announced March 18, 2020 and is extended through August 31, 2020. The Federal Housing Finance Agency enacted similar moratoria for properties with government sponsored enterprise (GSE) or federally backed mortgages through August 31, 2020.
  • Federal CARES Act: The CARES Act provided 120 days of protection against eviction for non-payment of rent in federally-backed and assisted housing beginning March 27, 2020. The CARES Act also provides protection against late fees and penalties.

Counselors are also checking in by calling clients they counseled prior to COVID-19. Carol Birk of the Housing and Family Services of Greater New York said, “It is very important for us to be reaching out proactively to our clients to do wellness checks. We are making referrals for food assistance, helping to resolve building maintenance issues, and helping to resolve landlord-tenant problems. We are also linking clients directly to community resources and reminding them that we’re available to help them through their challenges.”

The recovery work is just beginning, and tenants will continue to require counselor support during and after COVID-19 mitigation measures to help them navigate their housing challenges.