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Supreme Court Lets Some New York Eviction Proceedings Resume

Aug. 13, 2021, 12:25 AM

A divided U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for some eviction proceedings to resume in New York, blocking a provision that gave renters a shield if they said they were experiencing hardships because of the pandemic.

Over the dissents of three liberal justices, the court on Thursday sided with a group of landlords who say they have been devastated by what they contend is an unconstitutional law.

The disputed provision, which had been set to last through Aug. 31, blocked all eviction proceedings if the tenants declared that they were facing a Covid-related financial or health hardship.

“This scheme violates the court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case’ consistent with the Due Process Clause,” the court said in its unsigned order.

The order doesn’t affect a separate provision that lets tenants cite hardship as a defense once eviction proceedings have started.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented. “In this case, I would not second-guess politically accountable officials’ determination of how best to ‘guard and protect’ the people of New York,” Breyer wrote for the group.

Much of the state is still covered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Aug. 3 federal moratorium, which limits evictions through Oct. 3 in areas with “substantial or high rates of community transmission.”

But the federal measure is facing its own legal challenges, and the Supreme Court has indicated it’s likely to be skeptical of the ban. When the court left intact a previous CDC moratorium, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said in casting the pivotal vote that congressional authorization would be required for any further extension.

Suing Landlords

The suing landlords included Pantelis Chrysafis, who said he is owed more than $80,000 in rent on his single-family home in Garden City, and Betty S. Cohen, a retiree who said she is owed more than $24,000 on her Brooklyn co-op and has had to ask friends for donations to help make ends meet.

New York’s December 2020 law blocked eviction proceedings even if they were already under way. The law also required landlords to provide renters with a blank hardship form and a list of local tenant-assistance organizations.

“This law runs roughshod over property owners’ constitutional rights to procedural due process and free speech,” the landlords told the justices, adding that Governor Andrew Cuomo has lifted other pandemic-related restrictions and ended New York’s state of emergency.

New York Attorney General Letitia James told the Supreme Court that blocking the eviction ban “would disrupt the state’s fragile and ongoing recovery from the pandemic by abruptly inundating the courts with eviction proceedings before they are fully equipped to resume such actions.”

James argued the moratorium was on more solid legal ground than the CDC’s federal ban. This “case does not involve agency action that assertedly exceeds statutory authority, but instead a duly enacted state law exercising the state’s core police powers,” she said.

A federal trial judge in June agreed that the landlords had suffered substantial losses as a result of the moratorium, but declined to second guess the state legislature’s measures aimed at controlling the pandemic. “Courts are equipped with microscopes, while other branches of government have binoculars,” the judge said.

As a formal matter, the Supreme Court order applies only while the litigation goes forward. But with the moratorium set to expire this month, the high court action is likely to be the final word on the measure.

The case is Chrysafis v. Marks, 21A8.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Greg Stohr in Washington at gstohr@bloomberg.net;
Kimberly Robinson in Arlington at krobinson103@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Elizabeth Wasserman at ewasserman2@bloomberg.net

Ros Krasny

© 2021 Bloomberg L.P. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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