Tenant activists rally Downtown demanding city and state leaders cancel rent

Sarah Guillet, an organizer with the Flatbush Tenant Coalition, helps lead a rally outside Brooklyn’s housing court on June 22 to demand a halt on evictions and a cancellation of rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo by Paul Frangipane

After the statewide ban on all evictions expired over the weekend and as housing court reopened Monday, hundreds of tenants and advocates gathered outside a Downtown Brooklyn courthouse calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer relief to renters.

“Cuomo and de Blasio, they have the power to provide relief to the most vulnerable in New York but they have decided not to,” said Jake Gorr, a Bushwick-based organizer with the Full Time Tenant Union.

Gorr’s group — which advocates for tenants who rent from Full Time Management, a company overseeing properties in the northern Brooklyn neighborhood and nearby — was joined at the June 22 demonstration by the Crown Heights Tenant Union, advocacy group Housing Justice for All, and other local tenant groups.

‘Scabby the Rat,’ an inflatable mascot common at union rallies, made an appearance at the Downtown rally, too.Photo by Paul Frangipane

Protesters gathered outside Kings County Civil Court on Livingston and Jay streets around 8:30 am, demanding that city and state officials cancel rent. The demonstration comes as virtual hearings resume citywide, and tenants worry that landlords will flood housing courts with eviction proceedings.

Until June 20, landlords could not legally evict residential and commercial tenants under an executive order signed by Cuomo in March, as the COVID-19 pandemic left millions of New Yorkers jobless and unable to pay rent.

The state’s chief executive extended that moratorium until August 20, but only for those who suffered from financial hardship from the coronavirus, in a executive order Gorr criticized for putting the onus on tenants to prove that they couldn’t pay because of the pandemic.

Marchers rally in Downtown Brooklyn for cancelling rent.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“They’re openly vague and they ultimately put the burden of proof on the tenant,” the tenant advocate said of Cuomo’s moratoriums. “It’s going to create confusion and panic.”

The city’s Rent Guidelines Board, the nine-member entity tasked with setting the rents for some 1 million rent-stabilized apartments in the Five Boroughs, froze rent for one-year leases of those units on June 17, Curbed reported.

But those tenants still have to pay rent and landlords of unregulated apartments can still up rates in the coming months, putting hundreds of thousands at the risk of losing their home, Gorr warned.

Tenant advocates fear there could be a wave of evictions starting June 22 as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s main eviction moratorium expires.Photo by Paul Frangipane

“There are a lot of vulnerable people who have no back up plan, they fall on the street and have a higher chance to catch COVID because they have no place to shelter in place,” he said. “People are choosing between buying groceries and rent, while landlords here are acting like none of this is happening.”

He and fellow activists are focusing their aim on city and state legislators to pass rent cancellation, taking their inspiration from the upstate city of Ithaca, where municipal legislators voted at the beginning of the month to ask the state to allow local authorities to forgive three months rent, reported the Ithaca Voice.

“This is not going to be our last demonstration,” Gorr said. “We’re going to continue to tell state and local politicians what we want.”