By Hellen Zaboulani
A group of Westchester County landlords have filed a lawsuit charging that Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order halting evictions during the pandemic violates their constitutional rights. As reported by Crain’s NY, the suit filed last week in federal court claims that the governor’s moratorium led tenants to shrug off the need to pay rent until the end of the lockdown, even though some of them have the means to pay. Also, the governor allowed tenants to pay rent by means of their security deposit, which the landlords hold violates the terms of the leases.
The suit alleges that Gov. Cuomo’s order, which expires August 20, denies the owners of eight apartment buildings and a total of 100 units in Elmsford, Port Chester and Yonkers of their only means of income. Despite this decline in income, landlords have still been required to pay their mortgages, the costs of maintaining their property and even the property taxes, as per the suit. The landlords in the lawsuit filed on May 27, are asking for the return of the security deposits, which they say serves to protect them against damages that tenants can instill on the properties.
The governor’s edict has been broadly unwelcomed by landlords from the beginning when it was signed, as they felt they were being unfairly omitted from the state’s graces. They have protested that Cuomo should have been more concerned to make sure tenants have the money to pay rent, rather than allowing them to brush off this responsibility at the expense of their landlords. Cuomo could have also stepped up to pay landlords back rather than leave them to incur the losses, said Mark Guterman, the attorney representing the landlords in the lawsuit.
“There is a contract between the landlord and tenant,” said Robert Rosenblatt, a real estate attorney who has oft worked on tenant-landlord disputes unrelated to the case. “I don’t think any government organization has the right to interfere with the contract.” “All the protections I see in sight protect the tenants, and nothing is protecting the landlords,” Rosenblatt added.
Governor Cuomo’s office did not immediately comment.
As per Crain’s, landlords have threatened to withhold property taxes which are due July 1. They also urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to freeze taxes for all the while that evictions are banned. NYC Landlords Unite, a local group of about 1500 landlords protesting NYC’s approaching property tax deadline, said it is planning to bring a case against de Blasio for forcing them to pay.