NYC evictions surged in 2023, with legal lockouts nearing pre-COVID levels

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By Dan Sears

Evictions are surging across New York City, with the monthly rate of legal lockouts beginning to mirror pre-pandemic numbers in the second half of 2023, according to Gothamist’s analysis of publicly available data.

City marshals completed roughly 12,000 residential evictions last year as unpaid rent mounted and the court system worked through a backlog of cases, records filed with the city Department of Investigation as of Jan. 4 show. Reporting delays mean this number is certain to increase.

Evictions nearly tripled in 2023 as compared to 2022, when the end of statewide tenant protections enacted early in the pandemic triggered a steady rise in the number of legal lockouts across the five boroughs. There were over 100 more evictions in October and November 2023 (2,484 total) than in the same period in 2019 (2,365).

The spike in evictions comes as the city struggles to solve record-high homelessness and tenants face surging rents and a dwindling stock of affordable apartments.

“So many renters in New York really struggled during the pandemic, and this caseload has been building in the courts, so now we’re finally seeing this come out through data,” said Rachel Fee, head of the nonprofit policy group New York Housing Conference.

The Bronx had the most evictions of the five boroughs last year, 4,000 recorded as of Jan. 4. Marshals completed 3,516 evictions in Brooklyn and 2,224 in Manhattan, as well as 1,722 in Queens and 511 on Staten Island, according to the data.

Evicted tenants are predominantly low-income New Yorkers of color, but Fee said the growing crisis affects everyone in the city by disrupting schools, prompting people to leave the five boroughs, hurting employers and straining an already-frayed social safety net.

“These are kids that are going to be in school across New York City,” she said. “These are people who have jobs. It’s in everyone’s interest to prevent evictions.”

A December 2023 report by Fee’s organization found about a third of tenants in income-restricted housing owed at least two months of rent. She said evictions force families to lose homes amid an affordable housing shortage and usually prevent landlords from collecting money they’re owed.

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Most evictions stem from a tenant’s inability to pay rent consistently — a problem experts say has been worsened by pandemic-related job losses, underemployment and rising prices for food, school supplies and other essentials. But tenants who need financial help have few immediate options to resolve their rent arrears.

A state relief fund meant to pay landlords on behalf of tenants who couldn’t pay rent stopped accepting new applications in 2022, while a city grant program for low-income New Yorkers who need emergency cash infusions to stave off evictions is denying most applicants as the agency in charge grapples with a dire staff shortage. Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams is blocking newly passed legislation that would make low-income tenants facing eviction eligible for city housing vouchers that cover the bulk of tenants’ rent payments, and has cited cost concerns over the $17 billion price tag his administration estimated. (The City Council and Independent Budget Office, a fiscal watchdog for the city, have estimated lower costs for implementing the legislation.)

Brooklyn landlord John Tsevdos, a member of the nonprofit advocacy organization Small Property Owners of New York, said most landlords will stop eviction proceedings if they’re getting paid rent. Tsevdos said he is trying to evict a pair of tenants who have only been paying about half the monthly rent for their Flatbush apartment after one of them lost his job.

“What am I supposed to do?” Tsevdos said. “ When it comes to paying the mortgage, I can’t call up the bank and say, ‘They’re paying me late.’”

Other landlords churn out eviction filings with little patience for tenants who fall behind.

At the 2,500-unit Flatbush Gardens complex in Brooklyn, more than a third of tenants had received a nonpayment notice and at least 50 had been evicted by August 2023. The owner of Tysens Park Apartments on Staten Island took 169 households to court between January 2022 and October 2023, over a median rent of $4,710, or about two to three months of missed payments.

Still, most eviction cases don’t result in the removal of tenants.

New York City landlords have filed more than 550,000 eviction cases since 2019, according to state court records — a number roughly equal to the combined populations of Buffalo and Jersey City. Those cases resulted in around 36,300 actual evictions, the data analyzed by Gothamist shows.

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Since 2017, more than 77,000 tenants have been evicted from their homes in the five boroughs. The forced removals have systemic consequences: A March 2023 study by Cornell University researchers, for instance, found a link between evictions and rising crime rates.

About 4% of families in local shelters report eviction as the immediate cause of homelessness, according to the city Department of Social Services. But that number doesn’t account for the untold number of people who try to “double up” in cramped apartments with friends or family, or find other temporary accommodations before turning to the shelter system, said Legal Aid Society attorney Judith Goldiner.

“People who get evicted, mostly don’t go straight into shelters,” she said. “Most people exhaust every other resource they have.”

Others turn to the streets and subways.

Keisha Burroughs was one of more than 100 people waiting for her case to be called at Bronx Housing Court last Thursday afternoon. Burroughs’ landlord evicted her in October after her rent arrears reached around $36,000, court records show.

She said she lost her job during the pandemic, has been struggling with various health problems, including serious complications from diabetes, and that she stayed with a relative for a month after losing her apartment but left because there wasn’t enough space. Burroughs noted she has spent the past six weeks sleeping on subway cars.

“You kind of end up in public places to wash up,” she said. “I wouldn’t have imagined my life would be this way 10 years ago. I feel like a non-entity.”

She said she’s still hoping to return to the apartment to recover her possessions and possibly move back in with the help of an emergency loan from the city, but that the amount she received after several denials still won’t cover her full debt: “Maybe it was too little too late.”

Tenant and landlord groups generally agree on one potential intervention that could stem evictions statewide: a new rent subsidy for low-income tenants that state lawmakers have failed to pass in the last two legislative sessions. But those groups differ on other possible solutions to the deepening problem.

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The Community Housing Improvement Program, a group representing owners of rent-stabilized apartments in New York, has called on the state to implement “eviction diversion” courts that would allow owners to collect debts and would spur the city to issue emergency grants to avoid tenant removals.

But tenant advocates say those courts could effectively speed up the eviction process if a tenant isn’t able to pay back rent or obtain aid. They have called on city and state officials to fund housing attorneys for all low-income tenants facing eviction and enact laws allowing tenants to challenge large rent increases and requiring landlords to offer a lease renewal in most cases.

“We should not let eviction levels like this be the new normal,” said Goldiner of the Legal Aid Society.

The measure, known as “good cause eviction,” is opposed by the real estate industry and Gov. Kathy Hochul.

In her State of the State address Tuesday, Hochul did not discuss tenant protections and instead focused on the need to build more housing across New York.

“Until we address our housing shortage, many of our neighbors will continue to struggle financially,” she said. “The only thing that will solve the problem is building hundreds and hundreds of thousands of homes.”

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