New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already called for a moratorium on evictions. Now state and city officials are calling for a rent freeze.

New York — and specifically New York City — has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak in the United States, with the state reporting more than half of the country’s coronavirus cases. It’s led to drastic action from Governor Andrew Cuomo, including a stay-at-home order shuttering nonessential businesses.

The New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) issued guidance Sunday related to what real estate professionals can do while the order is in place.

“The executive order means that until further notice real estate licensees are precluded from holding open houses, showings and in-person listing presentations for example,” the guidance reads. “You are not precluded from most work that you can accomplish from your home.”

Cold calling, however, is strictly forbidden while the state of emergency is in effect. Brokerages and licensees are prohibited from making unsolicited calls to consumers until at least September 7, 2020, according to the guidance.

The closing process could also theoretically be upended by the order, however it’s still not clear what’s limited by the executive order, according to NYSAR.

“We believe that if closings are deemed essential and able to proceed, licensees should not attend closings unless their presence is essential to the successful completion of the transaction,” the guidance reads. “One of the matters for which we are seeking clarification is a licensees ability to participate in a final walk-through and any restrictions that might apply if the walkthroughs are allowed.”

Cuomo also signed an executive order late last week that will allow notaries to not need to be in the same physical location as signatories, which could facilitate more remote closings.

The crunch on mobility for both prospective buyers and renters could become an even bigger challenge in the coming weeks, as more and more out-of-work New Yorkers struggle to make rent or mortgage payments. James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis predicted unemployment could hit as high as 30 percent in the second quarter of 2020.

Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have halted eviction proceedings and foreclosures in the state, but, for now, payments are still expected to be made.

The coming economic hardship could have a major impact on many New Yorkers, with a recent study from PropertyNest finding that 38.9 percent of renters would not be able to pay an extra month of rent if they were unemployed. Only one-quarter of New Yorkers had more than six months of rent savings.

A number of state and city elected officials have called for a rent freeze ahead of April 1. State Senator Michael Gianaris, the deputy leader of the Democrat-controlled legislative body and a representative from Queens, is calling for a 90-day suspension of residential and commercial rent for tenants and small businesses impact by the pandemic.

“Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo, New York is doing an excellent job of managing this crisis, but the devastation caused by coronavirus will be far-reaching and long-lasting,” Gianaris said. “We must stay on top of the fast-changing consequences of our efforts to contain the virus, and the millions of tenants in our state cannot be left behind. Suspending rents is a critically important step to help New Yorkers survive this unprecedentedly difficult time.”

Other elected officials calling for a suspension of rent payments including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and State Senator Julia Salazar. A petition being circulated on Twitter by City Council candidate Marti Gould Cummings, calling suspending rent and mortgage payments, had received more than 120,000 signatures, Monday morning.

Email Patrick Kearns

coronavirus | rentals
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