Manhattan elected officials took to a Zoom call Thursday to outline their plans to allow cash-strapped tenants to avoid eviction for the next few months by urging New Yorkers to complete COVID-19 hardship declaration forms before Feb. 26.
Then the hecklers showed up.
After about 15 minutes into the meeting, it was “Zoom bombed” by tenants and activists who flooded the chat with “#CancelRent” and called out officials for not meeting previous demands
One person asked, “Why were tenants not invited to talk about this bill that is supposedly for tenants?” While another attendee said, “You can’t claim to want to engage with the community while ignoring us when we are right here!”
As the hosts struggled to regain control of the media conference, New York State Senator Brian Kavanagh shared that he was joined by Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, members of the Legal Aid Society, Citizen Action NY, and more to raise awareness among those on the brink of losing their homes.
The virtual discussion was aimed at increasing awareness for those particularly hard-hit with financial hardships and/or medical burdens due to the COVID-19 pandemic who can submit a “Hardship Declaration Form,” which could prevent eviction.
“We passed this law, which was adopted by the legislature and signed the same day by the Governor on Dec. 28th  to suspend all evictions and foreclosure proceedings for 60 days, except for a very limited exception where there might be an emergency involving life and safety of other residents in their buildings,” Senator Brian Kavanagh said.
The COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act protects tenants from eviction, giving them time to understand their rights and declare financial hardship so that they can avoid court proceedings. Kavanagh underscored that the 60 day period ends on February 26th, and eligible tenants, homeowners and small landlords, are strongly encouraged to submit their hardship declaration forms in advance of that date. However, it must be noted that these protections from the legislation will remain in effect until May 1st. Submitting the form at any time prior to May 1st will immediately halt any eviction proceedings and continue the protections contained in the legislation.
“In the winter, during the worst pandemic in a century, we do not want people evicted. We do not want people on the streets. It would be outrageous and unbelievable if we let that happen, and we will not let that happen,” said Dinowitz, who also stressed that small landlords with up to ten units and single-family homeowners can also complete declarations if their lender is trying to foreclose.
Kavanagh and other advocates in attendance were surprised by the limited number of forms received by the courts.
This Zoom meeting was held in direct response to the news that the New York Housing Courts have received fewer than 2,300 hardship claims, leading elected officials like Kavanagh, Dinowitz, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly Member Harvey Epstein, and others to believe that New York City residents are largely unaware of the prevention methods they can utilize in order to help avoid losing their place of residence, not just in Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, but also throughout the state as well.
As advocates tried to quell tenants’ fears regarding eviction, a brief shouting match ensued with tenants who feel that their voices have not been heard as they attempted to disrupt the process. Elected officials, such as Senator Robert Jackson asked that they email their local representatives with their comments.
Activists assured attendees and those who attempted to take over the discussion that the point of the meeting was to help spread the word on the hardship form so that individuals are not left homeless. They stated that in addition to the hardship form, there is $1.3 billion of federal funding that the state has to disperse to people who have not been able to pay their rent and additional money will be coming the federal government to address those same issues.
“This eviction moratorium was won through relentless tenant organizing, but its protections are only as strong as its implementation. Tenants must be made aware of their rights in order to assert them, and landlords and judges must be held accountable in ensuring this happens,” said Rebecca Garrard, a tenant advocate and Campaigns Manager for Housing Justice.
It was also underscored that while there is a deadline for the forms on Feb. 26, it would stop court proceedings as well as eviction. Tenants have until May 1 to fill out their hardship declaration form so that they are not evicted, but they will still have to appear in court if the landlord pursues legal action and the forms were not submitted prior to Feb. 26.
The meeting culminated with “Zoom Bombers” chanting loudly “Cancel Rent! Cancel Rent!”
If you are facing financial hardship and cannot pay your rent, complete a “Hardship Declaration” form, which is available in English and Spanish at: http://nycourts.gov/covid-eefpa.shtml