Eviction moratorium and virtual access to meetings extended

Enterprise file photo — Melissa Hale-Spencer

In July, residents attending a Guilderland School Board meeting were socially distanced to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

ALBANY COUNTY — Early Thursday morning, Governor Kathy Hochul signed legislation with two provisions: One is a moratorium on COVID-related residential and commercial evictions; the other extends virtual access to public meetings.

At the same time, Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy announced another resident — a man in his sixties — had died of COVID-19, bringing the county’s death toll to 396. 

This is the seventh county death from COVID-19 this week. McCoy also announced 104 new cases of COVID-19.

Hochul had called a special legislative session for Wednesday, which also confirmed two appointments to oversee distribution of cannabis in the state.



The moratorium on evictions is in effect until Jan. 15. The new law keeps in place all protections of the Tenant Safe Harbor Act for residential tenants who are suffering financial hardship as a result of the pandemic; it also adds protections on commercial evictions.

The state’s former eviction moratorium ended on Aug. 31. The new law comes on the heels of an Aug. 26 United States Supreme Court decision that had rejected the Biden administration’s moratorium on evictions.

New Yorkers who are having trouble paying their rent can apply for assistance through the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, known as ERAP. Applicants to this program are automatically protected from eviction while their application is pending and will receive a year of eviction protections if they qualify for assistance.

As of August 31, according to the governor’s office, more than $1.2 billion in funding has either been obligated or distributed through ERAP, including more than $300 million in direct payments to more than 23,000 landlords.

The law creates a $25 million fund to provide legal services to tenants facing eviction proceedings and to help them maintain housing stability in areas of the state where access to free legal assistance for such services is not available.

The law also establishes a new $250 million Supplemental Emergency Rental Assistance program to serve additional households and to better support landlords.

Through this program, $125 million will be made available to provide assistance to households with income that exceeds 80 percent of area median income and up to 120 percent of area median income.

Additionally, $125 million will be made available for assistance to landlords whose tenants refuse to participate or have vacated the residence with arrears.

Tenants must submit a hardship declaration, or a document explaining the source of the hardship, to prevent an eviction proceeding from moving forward. Landlords who believe that their tenant has not suffered a financial hardship will now be permitted to request a hearing in court.

Landlords can also evict tenants who are creating safety or health hazards for other tenants, intentionally damaging property, and where a tenant did not submit a hardship declaration. 

The law places a moratorium on residential foreclosure proceedings so that homeowners and small landlords who own 10 or fewer residential dwellings can file hardship declarations with their mortgage lender, other foreclosing party, or a court that would prevent a foreclosure.

The law’s moratorium on commercial evictions and commercial foreclosure proceedings apply to small businesses with 100 or fewer employees that demonstrate a financial hardship. Tenants must submit a hardship declaration, or a document explaining the source of the hardship, to prevent evictions.


Virtual meetings

The new law extends virtual access to public meetings under the state’s Open Meetings Law, allowing New Yorkers to virtually participate in local government meetings during the pandemic.

The legislation was first set up by executive order during the state of emergency last year. This allowed state and local government meetings normally held in person to be held remotely as long as the public could view or listen to the meeting and as long as the meeting was recorded and later transcribed.

On March 12, 2020, the executive order suspended the portion of the Open Meetings Law requiring meetings to take place in person, and authorized public meetings to be held virtually. On June 25, 2021, when the state disaster emergency ended, the provision suspending the law was removed.

The new statutory change will reduce the need for congregation at public meetings while the Delta variant is prevalent, while ensuring public business can continue, according to the governor’s office.

Meetings can be held either over a video service such as Zoom or by phone. There is no change to the requirement that public bodies must provide notice to constituents that a meeting is taking place, and they are required to inform constituents how to access the public meeting virtually.

“Let’s be clear — the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and I’ve heard from government officials across the state who are concerned about the inability of their constituents to access public meetings virtually,” said Hochul in a statement.


Newest numbers

Albany County’s five-day average of new daily positive cases is now up to 75.4, McCoy said in his release.

There are now 497 active cases in the county, up from 479 on Wednesday. The number of Albany County residents under mandatory quarantine increased to 820 from 795. 

There were four new hospitalizations since Wednesday, and 27 county residents are hospitalized with the virus.There are now nine patients in intensive-care units, down from 10 yesterday.

“We’ve lost seven Albany County residents in less than a week to COVID-19,” said McCoy in the release. “My sympathy goes out to the latest family who has lost their loved one. I continue to encourage people to get vaccinated. It is the best protection to fight this virus. Our health department offers shots Monday through Friday at its office on Green Street and we are still partnering with many others in the community to offer vaccine clinics.”

Albany County continues to deliver vaccines to homebound residents, which includes seniors, disabled individuals, those lacking childcare and those with other accessibility issues. Anyone who would like to schedule a time for a vaccine appointment should call 518-447-7198.

As of Thursday evening, according to the state’s vaccine tracker, 69.6 percent of Albany County’s 307,117 residents had received at least one dose of vaccine as had 80.5 percent of residents 18 and older.

Statewide, 67.4 percent of New Yorkers have received at least one dose and 60.1 percent are fully vaccinated. For New Yorkers 18 and older, 79.8 percent have received at least one dose and 71.7 are fully vaccinated.

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