Six Degrees of Legal Updates for Landlords

Published On: November 19th, 2020

A few years back, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” became a popular parlor game.  Movie buffs challenged each other to find the shortest path between any actor and the prA few years back, “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” became a popular parlor game.  Movie buffs challenged each other to find the shortest path between any actor and the prolific Mr. Bacon. The idea was that anyone in Hollywood can be linked through their film roles to the younger of the Bacon Brothers within six steps.

For example, Harrison Ford.  Mr. Ford starred in “Raiders of the Lost Arc”, as the iconic and laconic Indiana Jones, opposite of Karen Allen.  Ms. Allen portrayed Katy in “Animal House” alongside Mr. Bacon as Omega Theta Pi pledge, Chip Diller.  (Chip was the guy who, while being paddled during a Omega House hazing ritual squeaked out, “Thank you sir, may I have another?!?!”)

This highly memed and memeable film moment is, unfortunately, an apt metaphor for how landlords are affected by last year’s changes in New York’s Landlord-Tenant laws and the current suspension of evictions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

In June of 2019,  the New York legislature and Governor Cuomo, without any warning or consultation with Landlord’s or their attorneys, passed and signed a raft of major changes to the laws governing the relationship between landlords and their tenants.  Some of these include:

  • capping security deposits;
  • limiting the amount advance rent;
  • limiting the amount of fees you may charge for late rent;
  • limiting the amount you may charge for running credit/background checks;
  • making it illegal for you to refuse to rent to someone who has been evicted before;
  • requiring you to provide a written notice of late rent;
  • making failure to provide such a notice a defense to eviction;
  • increasing from 3 to 14 days the time frame for a Notice to Quit;
  • making it illegal for you evict for the nonpayment of any fees (such as late, bounced check, heat, electricity, cable or other utility charges, even if they are defined as “additional rent” in your lease);
  • requiring you to provide an itemized receipt describing any damage and the cost you deducted from a security deposit and mandating you return the full deposit, less any such deduction, all within 14 days of the tenant vacating.

I could go on.  But allow me to summarize with, “Thank you Empire State, may I have another?!?!”

As if these changes weren’t enough, we are also in the midst of a suspension on almost all evictions due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Both federal and New York state authorities currently prohibit any evictions for nonpayment, as well as most "good cause” or lease violation evictions as well, without first getting special permission from a judge.  Although the New York eviction suspension is set to expire on August 15, 2020, we think there’s a good chance that it will be extended (as it has already been several times). 

This doesn’t mean that landlords are completely at the mercy of tenants (just mostly; sort of like Chip Diller during his Omega House hazing).  There are steps you can take now to better protect and position yourself once the suspensions are lifted.  These include properly terminating with written notices the leases of nonpaying tenants, or those in violation of their leases, and filing for eviction now.  Although these evictions will be stayed automatically, the hope is that filing promptly will put you at the front of the line to have your case heard once the suspensions are lifted.  Additionally, although there is no established procedure to do so, it is possible to ask a judge for special permission to prosecute an eviction despite the suspensions.  I successfully applied for and received such permission to immediately prosecute an eviction based on tenants’ violation of their lease.

Following this Pandemic, we anticipate a tremendous rush to the courthouse to prosecute the mountain of evictions that have been building up since March.

Until then, anyone up for a game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

This article is intended to be used for informational purposes only. Legal advice is neither implied by the author nor should be inferred by the reader. If you have specific legal questions, you should consult with your attorney.

Jeffrey Sculley is an attorney and counselor at law focusing his practice on representing landlords; providing backroom human resource and employment support to businesses and not-for-profits; representing clients in appealing adverse trial-court and administrative decisions; and representing clients in all types of administrative, regulatory and compliance matters, before governmental agencies and administrative hearing officers and law judges.