The Supreme Court on Thursday night partially blocked a New York State law that prohibited landlords from evicting tenants amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In a brief, unsigned emergency order, the divided court said it granted injunctive relief to landlords who had requested it enjoin a section of the COVID Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act that denies them the ability to question a tenant’s self-certified declaration that they were unable to pay rent due to pandemic-incurred financial hardship.
“If a tenant self-certifies financial hardship, Part A of CEEFPA generally precludes a landlord from contesting that certification and denies the landlord a hearing,” the ruling said. “This scheme violates the Court’s longstanding teaching that ordinarily ‘no man can be a judge in his own case.'”
Justice Stephen Breyer was joined by the court’s two other liberal members in dissenting against the ruling.
In his written dissent, Breyer wrote that the law does not merit the extraordinary form of relief the landlords are seeking as it is set to expire on Aug. 31 and its unconstitutionality is not “indisputably clear.”
He said in a matter of weeks eviction proceedings may again proceed, alleviating the hardships of landlords, and that the law does not prevent them from seeking to reclaim unpaid rent after it lapses.
Breyer agreed that some landlords have suffered hardships because of the law but that must be weighed against the hardships New York tenants who have relied upon the moratorium’s protections will face if they are subjected to evictions earlier than anticipated.
The landlords’ hardships caused by unpaid rent could also be alleviated by the $2 billion in federal assistance currently being distributed to New Yorkers.
“The New York Legislature is responsible for responding to a grave and unpredictable public health crisis. It must combat the spread of a virulent disease, mitigate the financial suffering caused by business closures and minimize the number of unnecessary evictions,” he said. “The legislature does not enjoy unlimited discretion in formulating that response, but in this case I would not second-guess politically accountable officials’ determination of how best to ‘guard and protect’ the people of New York.”
State Democratic Sen. Brian Kavanagh who was a prime sponsor of the bill called the Supreme Court’s decision “a very serious blow” to protecting tenants and New Yorkers.
“We need to revisit the law and figure out if there are ways that we can shore it up that are consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision today,” he said, Politico reported.
Randy Mastro, the attorney for the landlords, said that they were “extremely grateful to the Supreme Court for reaffirming that even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”
“We sought emergency relief because New York’s continuing moratorium violated owners’ constitutional rights and left small landlords struggling to survive, with no opportunity even to be heard in court, a fundamental right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution ” he said in a statement. “Now, all parties will have that right, thanks to today’s Supreme Court decision.”
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