LANDLORD WATCH COVID-19 response

How does the coronavirus impact my search for housing in NYC?

COVID-19 has created a lot of uncertainty, including if you're looking for an apartment and especially if you have a voucher program. Our team at Landlord Watch created this page for up-to-date reports about how the voucher system is working during this public health and housing crisis.

We were regularly making updates and seeking answers to your questions until September 24, 2020. We are no longer making significant updates to this page, but all information here is accurate as of September 24, 2020. The links you find here should provide you with up-to-date information from other organizations.

ABOUT US
Landlord Watch builds digital tools to help people navigate the voucher system, report housing discrimination, and fight for policies that #MakeVouchersWork. We are a small organization that started at Blue Ridge Labs, and we partner with Neighbors Together in Bed-Stuy.

Our latest update was September 24 at 12:36 pm EST. Our most recent updates are in blue.

Your questions

Searching for housing and viewing apartments

Are brokers and landlords even scheduling appointments to see their apartments right now? Is it safe for me to do that? Do I have other options?

VIEWINGS
As of September, 2020 many businesses - including brokers and management companies - have gone back to work. Brokers are showing apartments, both in-person and through virtual appointments. If you are immunocompromised or otherwise do not want to have an in-person interaction with a broker, you should ask a broker to send a video or schedule a virtual tour of the apartment. This usually means a broker will give you a video call on your phone as they walk through the apartment.

Social distancing is still extremely important as the city works to contain the virus. We have heard reports that some brokers are conducting "socially distant" in-person interviews, but sometimes brokers do not respect safety protocol, such as not wearing a mask or getting within 6 feet of others. That isn't right! If this has happened to you or someone you know, you can make a complaint about this via 311.

INTERNET ACCESS
We also know that it might be hard to access wireless internet for some people, especially if you don’t have it set up at home, or you’re staying in a shelter. That can make it hard to search. If you have a child K-12 or a college student in your household, you may qualify for 60 days of free wifi - there is a list of providers in the city that may be able to provide this here.

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Getting in touch with agencies

What is the status of my agency? It seems like my housing specialist is being less responsive than usual. What's going on?

SOURCE: HRA's website, HPD's website and Twitter feed, NYCHA's website and customer hotline, and HCR's website.

Human Resources Administration (HRA):
CityFHEPS, FHEPS, HASA

SHOW MORE INFO

HRA's COVID-19 announcements are available on their website. Here's a summary:

APPOINTMENTS:
According to the HRA website, many locations are "are consolidating until further notice" - which means that many HRA offices are still closed. The HRA website encourages you to use ACCESS HRA or a phone call to communicate with them. You can see a list of which HRA locations are open, including their new hours, here.

Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD):
HPD Section 8 vouchers

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HPD's COVID-19 announcements are available on their website and their Twitter page. Here's a summary:

APPOINTMENTS:
100 Gold Street is still closed. All tenant briefings have been postponed and will be rescheduled. The HPD website suggests that e-mail is the best way to get in touch with HPD staff - you can see a list of departments and e-mail addresses here.

INSPECTIONS:
Non-emergency HQS inspections are temporarily suspended. Call 311 if you have a life-threatening condition.

EXTENSIONS:
HPD will provide additional time for anyone with an active voucher, automatically. No need to reach out if you need an extension.

TERMINATIONS:
HPD is suspending all subsidy terminations that were in process until further notice. They will continue paying subsidies until final determinations are made.

RENT HARDSHIPS:
HPD Section 8 voucher holders facing rent hardships due to drops in income should email DTRAI@hpd.nyc.gov or fax at 212-863-5299.

New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA):
NYCHA Section 8 vouchers

SHOW MORE INFO

Some NYCHA COVID-19 announcements are available on their website and their Twitter.

APPOINTMENTS:
Customer Contact Centers (CCCs) in the Bronx 478 East Fordham Road) and Brooklyn (787 Atlantic) are currently closed to the public until further notice. All in-person public meetings and events at NYCHA offices and developments are postponed or moved to web/telephone until further notice.

INSPECTIONS:
At this time, NYCHA Section 8 is scheduling new inspections. A NYCHA representative told us that a few scheduled inspections have been cancelled or postponed, but if that happens to you, they would notify you directly and reschedule.

EXTENSIONS:

If you need an extension because it’s hard to find housing during COVID-19, call the Customer Contact Center (CCC) to see what your options are.

TERMINATIONS:
NYCHA has suspended resident evictions during the state of emergency. Residents experiencing income loss are being directed to NYCHA's rent hardship program - you may be able to request a reduction of your rent on this page.

Homes and Community Renewal (HCR):
HCR Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program

SHOW MORE INFO

HCR's COVID-19 announcements for New York City are available on their website.

APPOINTMENTS:
The NYC Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher office at 25 Beaver Street in Manhattan is open, but you now must make all appointments in advance. You can see more information about the HCR office-reopening here.

INSPECTIONS:
Housing Quality Standards (HQS) inspections will only be held for families that are either new to the program or relocating, and in response to immediate health and safety complaints.

EXTENSIONS:

No information provided about extensions. If you have questions, HCR recommends that you leave a message for your case manager with the phone number and extension you usually use for them, or call the HCR general phone number at (212) 480-6672.

Homebase Locations

SHOW MORE INFO

All Homebase locations are still closed, but services are available by phone. Here’s what we know from their websites and tips from visitors to this FAQ:

CAMBA is providing most services by appointment over the phone. Updates are posted on the home page of their website and current status of their programs can be found here.

Riseboro is working remotely and taking over-the-phone appointments. Their COVID-19 updates are available here.

Bronxworks appears to have select physical locations open (not for Homebase services, but some food services and childcare centers). See their Twitter feed and this website for updates.

As far as we can tell, HelpUSA has not posted on Twitter or their website specifically about the status of their Homebase locations. We assume that they are closed and have Homebase services available by phone, based on HRA's website.

As far as we can tell, Catholic Charities has not posted on Twitter or their website specifically about the status of their Homebase locations.

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Fighting back against discrimination

I think a landlord or broker is discriminating against me. What can I do? Is the city still accepting complaints right now?

You have rights where you currently live. If you are housed in an apartment right now, the city has made a list of your rights to remember at this time. Your landlord cannot discriminate against you, kick you out, or ask you to leave your apartment because of fears and stigma around COVID-19, including discrimination or harassment on the basis of actual or perceived race, national origin, disability, or other protected groups. You can report these claims with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.

Met Council also has a tenants' rights hotline, in English and en español: (212) 979-0611. The hours are Monday 1:30-8pm. Tuesday 5:30-8pm, Wednesday 1:30-8pm, and Friday 1:30-5pm.

If you are making calls to brokers or to a landlord, check out our chatbot Justice to learn about your rights and how to report discrimination. You can also learn more about the fight to end voucher discrimination on Stop SID, from the organization Neighbors Together.

SOURCE: We're keeping track of what we're hearing from folks with vouchers and our collaborators.

I lost my job during COVID-19 and I am now on unemployment. Is unemployment insurance (UI) considered a "lawful source of income"? Does a landlord have to accept it as a legitimate form of income?

First of all, know that you are not alone! Many, many New Yorkers are facing hardship after having lost their livelihoods due to COVID-19. This is why it so important right for New Yorkers to organize together and make bold, transformative demands, so that we can emerge from this crisis into a world that looks more, not less just. You can read more about statewide organizing efforts to #CancelRent and demand long-term affordable housing in the last section of this FAQ.

If you do not have a rental assistance voucher, but you are receiving unemployment, the answer to question "Does a landlord have to accept unemployment as a legitimate form of income" is not exactly straightforward. A landlord can still look at a tenants' ability to fulfill obligations under a lease, and, if there's no voucher, impose minimum income requirements. Because unemployment insurance is, by definition, temporary, the landlord could have a "legitimate business interest" in excluding someone who cannot reach their income requirements for the full lease term. If a landlord requires a minimum of 40x the annual rent in income for all non-voucher holders, the owner is within their right to reject someone on unemployment who only earns 30x the rent. However, if the owner imposes the 40x the rent requirement on the person with unemployment and then a tester without unemployment is offered the apartment at 30x the rent, then that could be considered discrimination.

It's important to remember that laws and policies are also not written in stone - considering the thousands of people who have lost their jobs and now rely on unemployment to pay rent, we could envision organizing and advocating for policy change!

SOURCE: We're keeping track of what we're hearing from folks with vouchers and our collaborators.

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Safety, shelters, eviction, and other concerns about where you live now

I'm in a shelter and I feel unsafe. What can I do?

SHELTERS & SAFETY
Since the onset of the pandemic, there have been multiple reports that safety measures are not being respected in homeless shelters, despite guidance issued by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. For example, in many shelters, rooms are not being sanitized, social distancing is not being enforced in common areas, and shelter residents are not being provided with gloves and masks. Residents in dorm-style shelters are particularly concerned due to crowded living quarters, where it is impossible to "socially distance." Several residents have reported conditions that feel “dangerous and unsanitary."

In March 2020, we began mobilizing with #HomelessCantStayHome, a coalition of homeless advocacy organizations calling for immediate action from Cuomo and De Blasio to ensure the survival and protection of homeless New Yorkers. Amongst our list of demands,
we have been calling on the Mayor and the Governor to immediately offer 30,000 of the city's 100,000+ vacant hotel rooms to all homeless people who need a safe room, including those on the streets, those in congregate shelters, and those in double rooms. While some congregate-style shelter residents have been moved to hotel rooms thanks to tireless organizing efforts, the City has failed to fully implement the recommendations of public health experts, homeless advocates, and homeless people themselves. You can read the most recent campaign statement and updated list of demands here, released on August 12, 2020.

In addition to demanding safe spaces for homeless New Yorkers to social distance during the COVID-19 public health crisis, the #HCSH campaign identified a list of concrete measures to pave the way towards securing long-term, affordable housing for New Yorkers who are currently homeless or at risk of losing their home. Access to housing is particularly key given the threat of a massive wave of evictions in the wake of COVID: 

“Due to the dire economic circumstances that so many people are facing, we also anticipate a wave of evictions and significant increase in homelessness in the coming months, specifically in Black and Brown communities. The “second pandemic” of eviction and homelessness calls for an immediate response that, short of preventing displacement altogether, ensures that eviction (and homelessness) does not become a death sentence.”  - #HCSH campaign,
August 12 Statement

Amongst the campaign demands, #HCSH calls for raising CityFHEPS voucher amounts to reflect market rents for New York City (Intro 146).

You can
take action by signing our coalition's petition here, by contributing to our growing movement on Twitter using the hashtag #HomelessCantStayHome, and by following some of our allies in this campaign on social media to stay up to date: VOCAL-NY, Neighbors Together, Picture the Homeless, Communities United for Police Reform, Safety Net Activists, and Human.nyc

We know that when it comes to COVID-19, homeless folks are on the frontlines. The public health crisis is exposing our city and state for failing to house New Yorkers and to provide access to safe, affordable homes for all. We urge elected officials to do what's right and take immediate action to protect the lives of homeless New Yorkers.

What if I am currently on the street?

STREETS & SAFETY
On March 26, 2020, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued guidance to protect the well-being of unsheltered people during COVID-19. They urge city authorities to stop sweeping homeless encampments: "Do not clear encampments during community spread of COVID-19 unless you have real-time access to individual rooms or units for ALL households in the encampment and a clear plan to safely transport those households. Clearing encampments without these measures in place causes people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers, increasing the potential for infectious disease spread."

However, DHS is still conducting sweeps, as shown by this sweep notice. Further, the nightly subway shutdown from 1am to 5am that began in May to “sanitize” trains every day has involved the NYPD forcibly clearing subway trains and stations. Volunteer outreach teams went out on several occasions to distribute blankets and food to unsheltered folks being violently kicked off from trains in the middle of the night.

We join other advocates in calling for an immediate end to law enforcement sweeps, diversions, and targeting of homeless New Yorkers. City authorities must leave homeless folks free to protect themselves and practice social distancing as best they can. Empty hotel rooms and other vacant units in the city must be opened up to house the homeless, and food distribution at schools must include the homeless. Please read and share this open letter of demands for Cuomo and de Blasio signed by many homeless advocacy groups.

Finally, we call upon our neighbors across New York City to act in solidarity during this time of monumental hardship. We condemn the NIMBYism of certain Upper West Side residents, who have been asking for the removal of homeless New Yorkers from the Lucerne, a hotel which has been turned into a temporary shelter during COVID to allow shelter residents to safely social distance. Thanks to efforts from advocates and from the neighborhood group UWS Open Hearts Initiative, the transfer of residents out of the Lucerne Hotel was stalled. You can read the full story here.

At this time DHS shelter intake should be still open.

I'm in an apartment. Can I get evicted right now?

EVICTION

Please note: the information listed here was accurate as of September 24, 2020. However, we are no longer updating this page. For the most update to date information on the Eviction Moratorium, the #CancelRent campaign, and how to organize a rent strike in your building, please visit read this
FAQ from the NYC Right to Counsel Coalition and check out their tenant organizing resources.

Thanks to tireless organizing effort from tenants and advocates across New York State, all evictions have been suspended until October 1. There will be NO EVICTIONS in New York, for anyone, for any reason, before October 1.

While no evictions can take place until October 1, landlords may still sue. If you were sued after March 16, you won’t have a court date and your case will be suspended indefinitely. If you have a case that started before March 17, courts are moving cases forward and you may have a virtual court date.

The CDC also released on order on September 4, 2020 halting evictions nationally until after December 31, 2020 due to the public health crisis. Unfortunately, this order may not apply to everyone - tenants have to claim and prove that they cannot pay rent due to "substantial loss of household income" during COVID-19 specifically. If you think you are covered by this new CDC order, lawyers suggest that you consult with an attorney to make sure. Find more information about this here, from the NYC Right to Counsel Coalition.

If you have any questions about eviction or court cases, you can contact the Housing Court Answers hotline from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, at (212) 962-4795 or (718) 557-1379 for more information.

While COVID-19 has exacerbated housing insecurity, the housing crisis is not new. Advocates across the state are pushing three bills that could meaningfully prevent a tidal wave of evictions after October 1: canceling rent for tenants across NYS, putting in place a universal, long-term moratorium on evictions, and creating a statewide rental assistance voucher for families that currently homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless. To take action to support these bills, please go to bit.ly/evictionfreeny.

SOURCE: For more on the CDC eviction moratorium, see Right to Counsel and this article from Brick Underground.

How can I get other help?

MUTUAL AID RESOURCES

Across New York City, many mutual aid networks are popping up to respond to Covid-19 locally and rapidly. Mutual aid means that neighbors are helping out their community directly without going through a governmental agency or a non-profit organization. When the government fails us, we can protect and support each other through peer-to-peer solidarity. For example, folks are offering free childcare and tutoring, fundraising for those who've lost their jobs, or running errands for sick, elderly, or at-risk neighbors.

To find a mutual aid group in your neighborhood or borough, check-out Mutual Aid NYC - this website can help connect you to a local neighborhood group, or you can call their hotline for help at 646-437-8080.

OTHER RESOURCES

We recommend checking out the following organizations and campaigns for up-to-date info:
- On issues impacted homeless New Yorkers in shelters or on the streets: follow the
#HomelessCantStayHome campaign, and organizations part of this coalition (VOCAL-NY, Neighbors Together, Picture the Homeless, Human.nyc, Safety Net Activists, Communities United for Police Reform
- On the Eviction Moratorium and the #CancelRent campaign:
Right to Counsel NYC, Housing Justice For All 
- You can also check out
JustFix’s Learning Center, which has several COVID-19 housing topics.

SOURCE: We have beencoordinating with housing advocates around the city, many of whom are working around the clock to put together resource guides and FAQs about social services and mutual aid networks that aim to help New Yorkers manage the impact on their families, livelihoods, and homes.

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