ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — The eviction moratorium is ending this weekend in New York State and some tenants fear they could be put out in the cold. There have been several reports of landlords turning off utilities due to renters not paying their bills, but is this legal?
“The law looks at turning off the utilities as sort of like a self-help eviction, which is not permitted under the civil law,” Anna Czarples, Esq., an attorney with Welch, Donlon & Czarples, PLLC., said.
Under criminal law, landlords could be charged with a Class A Misdemeanor for turning off the heat, water, or other utilities. Landlords cannot forcibly evict a person by shutting off their utilities.
“If a person was in the situation where the landlord purposely and intentionally cut off their utilities, one of their remedies is to call the police and say ‘Can you investigate if this was a part of an unlawful eviction?'” Czarples added.
Because of the moratorium, a landlord told 18 News some other property owners are forced to go to the extreme in order to get months of back rent payments. Landlords feel they are being treated unfairly by the state.
While weather conditions are not written into law, they can be a factor in an eviction case.
“It doesn’t matter to the law what the weather is outside, but I will say that it is certainly within the discretion of law enforcement or the discretion of a judge for determining if charges have been brought appropriately for unlawful eviction,” Czarples continued.
Ultimately, it is unlawful to leave tenants in the cold, but area landlords are struggling as the pandemic enters its third year. Several assistance programs like the Emergency Rental Assistance Program have run out of money.
While Gov. Hochul battles the Federal government for more money to fund it, tenants and landlords may be out of luck if they try to apply for these funds. The ERAP portal will open again Tuesday night, but there is no money to hand out right now.