COVID-19 Consumer & Homeowner Resources
COVID-19 CONSUMER INFORMATION
As the number of documented cases of COVID-19 continue to increase across the United States, public health is a primary nationwide concern. Unfortunately, we are also now seeing the most vulnerable communities having to deal with financial challenges and pandemic-related scams. Like most, you may be experiencing a great deal of uncertainty and fear around COVID-19 and its impact on your economic stability. Thankfully, safeguards have been put into place to protect New York State residents.
The VLP is also proud to have signed on to a letter with other consumer advocates urging a lift on enforcement of consumer judgements by use of a bank levy or income execution. While there is no official directive yet, some judges have lifted restraints while the motion is still pending.
IMPORTANT CONTACT INFORMATION
Kings County Clerk: (347) 404-9123
Coronavirus Court Hotline: (833) 503-0447
If you are a current VLP volunteers who needs guidance from VLP staff on consumer and foreclosure matters or are interested in providing help to new clients during this time, please reach out to VLP’s Director of Legal Services, Sidney Cherubin at (718) 624-3895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not a current VLP volunteer, but want to help out? Please contact VLP’s Pro Bono Director, Anne O’Grady at (718) 473-9202 or email@example.com.
Consumer cases at Kings Civil Court: The court is now hearing cases, typically via Skype, that are deemed an “emergency.” In the consumer context, this includes OSCs when there is a bank levy or income execution. All other cases – including previously filed orders to show cause – are not being heard. These cases are being adjourned and litigants can call the clerk’s number above to find out their new court date.
Economic Impact Payments: For consumer receiving stimulus checks, those funds have been deemed exempt from garnishment under New York law by the Attorney General, Letitia James. Ms. James has issued guidance to banks regarding this exemption, saying, “Banking institutions are advised that they should treat CARES Act payments as subject to the same protections as statutorily exempt payments.” Her office will prosecute any violations of this guidance.
New case filings from creditors: Chief Judge Marks announced that beginning Monday, May 25, 2020 new matters, previously classified as “nonessential,” will be able to be filed electronically for the five New York City counties and the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk, along with Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester counties using NYSCEF. Pursuant to this, creditors have filed cases against litigants through NYSCEF in Supreme Court and in person at the Civil Courthouse.
Statute of limitations for filings is tolled from March 20, 2020 – November 3, 2020.
Credit card debt, auto loans, personal loans: If individuals cannot make credit card payments, many banks are offering deferred monthly payments (90 days/120 days, etc.). Contact banks directly for details (call numbers on the back of cards or on monthly statements). This does not waive the monthly amount owed, but interest and late fees should not be applied during times of deferment.
Third-party debt collectors: Many have agreed to suspend debt collection activities if consumers can demonstrate a hardship related to COVID-19. Collection activities will cease when someone shows that their only income is exempt, i.e. Social Security, unemployment.
Checking and savings accounts: Banks may offer fee waivers for services like expedited checks and overdraft protection.
Medical and student loan debt owed to New York State: These debts are suspended through October 4, 2020. Ex. SUNY or state-owned hospital debt (not private parties or federal government debt).
Federal student loans: As of March 13, 2020, interest will be 0% and payments are suspended until December 31, 2020. Payments are automatically suspended. These suspended payments count towards income driven repayment plans, public service loan forgiveness, and loan rehabilitation. If income will be low for a considerable amount of time after this period, consider income-driven repayment plans which can be set up by loan servicers. Contact the loan servicer to continue to make payments if preferred. These provisions are not applicate to private student loans.
Price gouging: The Department of Consumer Affairs and Worker Protection (DCWP) has promulgated an emergency Rule under the City’s Consumer Protection Law that makes price gouging illegal for any personal or household good or any service that is needed to prevent or limit the spread of or treat COVID-19. The Rule, NYC Administrative Code 20-701(b), is in effect and makes it illegal to increase prices by 10% or more. The Rule follows DCWP’s previous declaration that face masks, hand sanitizer, and disinfectant wipes are in short supply and expands the Agency’s ability to protect New Yorkers from price gouging.
DCWP encourages consumers who are overcharged to file a complaint at nyc.gov/dcwp or by contacting 311 and saying “overcharge.” Consumers who believe they were victimized by price gouging should keep their receipts and any information about the store where the transaction occurred and file a complaint with DCWP.
Scams: Be careful! Do not click on unfamiliar links and do not provide personal information to unverified sources. There has been a spike in COVID-19 scams on social media, email, texts, and websites. Scammers are impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the New York Department of Education (DOE). To file a complaint involving a potential scam, visit the New York Department of Financial Services online or contact the Consumer Hotline at (800) 342-3736.
COVID-19 HOMEOWNER AND RENTER INFORMATION
Mortgages: If homeowners cannot make mortgage payments, contact mortgage servicers to request payment forbearances. Forbearances do not forgive the debt, but they may extend loan terms with no late payment fees and no negative reporting to credit bureaus. Mortgage lenders/servicers are required to offer mortgage forbearance plans to a New York borrower of a “home loan” who is “in arrears or on a trial period plan, or who has applied for loss mitigation and demonstrates financial hardship”.
Foreclosures: Foreclosures are suspended until at least December 31, 2020 for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration or backed by Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac. For all other mortgages, new and existing foreclosure cases are able to proceed, effective July 27, 2020. However, the court must hold a conference with the parties prior to addressing any pending or future motions or other applications for relief. No foreclosure auctions are allowed to be held prior to October 15, 2020.
Evictions: The Center for Disease Control (“CDC”) has issued a nation-wide moratorium on eviction of qualifying tenants for the non-payment of rent, effective through December 31, 2020. To qualify for this protection, a tenant must submit the declaration here to their landlord.
The CDC’s moratorium effectively extends the state-wide moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent until December 31, 2020. Late fees and missed payment fees are also banned, and essential applications (lockouts, repair orders) are allowed.
New eviction proceedings are still being filed, but tenants cannot be defaulted for not appearing. Additionally, the Tenant Safe Harbor Act creates an affirmative defense for tenants in eviction cases, was recently expanded by Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.66. The Act now prohibits landlords from evicting tenants for rent that accrued during the state’s shutdown prior to March 7, 2020. This period expires January 1, 2021. For tenants who qualify, warrants or judgments of eviction may not be executed during that period. While a landlord may not evict a tenant for rent not paid during this period, the landlord may still seek and receive a money judgment against a tenant for that past due rent.
Rental Assistance: For information on rental assistance programs, see: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/hra/help/rental-assistance.page
Utilities: Governor Cuomo ordered that all essential utilities (electric and gas) not be shut off for nonpayment.
If you – or someone you know – have legal questions and would like legal help, please call our intake help line at (718) 624-3894 or by starting an online intake.