By Bitta Mostofi, Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs
We are all focused on making a better 2021 for all our communities: keeping our city safe, beating COVID-19, and ensuring a just and inclusive recovery from this pandemic. With that in mind, the New Year also brings new rules and protections to help all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status, from the home to the workplace.
New Protections for Your Home
Housing has always been a basic human need, but it’s more important now during the COVID-19 pandemic than ever since the ability to safely quarantine at home is key to protecting your health and the health of others. It’s critically important that all New Yorkers—especially immigrant New Yorkers who may be experiencing unstable housing situations—understand the new protections that are now in effect. To learn more about your rights as a tenant and resources available to you, including those outlined below, visit nyc.gov/tenantprotection.
First, your landlord cannot evict you, kick you out, or ask you to leave your apartment for isolating or quarantining at home, because you or your household members have tested positive for COVID-19, or because someone may assume that you or your household members may be more likely to contract or spread the coronavirus. If you have experienced this type of harassment or discrimination, contact the NYC Commission on Human Rights at nyc.gov/humanrights. This also applies if your apartment remains your primary residence, but you are isolating or quarantining at a hospital or other facility like a hotel room provided free of charge through the NYC Test & Trace Corps’ ‘Take Care’ program. For more information about the NYC Test & Trace Corps, visit nyc.gov/takecare or call 1-212-COVID19 (268-4319) for information.
In addition, thanks to the recent New York State COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act, your landlord is forbidden from evicting you until at least May 1, 2021 if you have lost income or increased expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic, or if moving from your home would pose a hardship during the pandemic. This is a key protection to ensure New Yorkers and their communities can stay in their homes and are not put at greater health risk during this time of crisis. To receive these protections, New Yorkers must sign a “hardship declaration” detailing their difficulties and deliver it to their landlord. The good news is that you can do this proactively, even if you have not been in eviction proceedings yet. Visit nyc.gov/tenantprotection to download the hardship declaration form.
Also, the pandemic does not mean your landlord can take advantage of you. New York City Housing Court is still open for cases to restore you to your apartment if your landlord locks you out without a court order, if you need emergency repairs, or if you need critical services like heat or hot water. If you experience a housing issue that your landlord does not fix, such as loss of heat or hot water, under New York City Housing Code you can file a complaint by visiting portal.311.nyc.gov or calling 311.
If you are a residential renter in New York City and need help with housing-related issues including eviction, landlord harassment, or questions about your lease you can get reliable and accurate information, help with benefits, and access to free legal assistance. To access these services and get answers to your questions about your rights and see if you qualify for legal assistance, visit nyc.gov/tenantprotection or contact the City’s Tenant Helpline by calling 311 and saying “Tenant Helpline.” The Tenant Helpline connects tenants with Support Specialists for consultation and can connect tenants to free legal services providers for information, advice, and legal representation. The Tenant Helpline is available to all NYC residential renters, regardless of income, immigration status, or zip code. The Tenant Helpline staff can help in your primary language.
In order to address the need for housing stability and rental assistance, the city has also helped launch new programs like FASTEN (Funds and Services for Tenants Experiencing Need) which offers eviction prevention services and financial resources, including rent relief, to help vulnerable and underserved New York City residents stay in their homes as the COVID-19 crisis continues, regardless of their immigration status.
If you have questions about how to access the FASTEN program and other City services, assistance, or immigration legal help, help in your language is available. Call the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA) hotline at 212-788-7654, Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, or send an email to AskMOIA@cityhall.nyc.gov.
The Homebase program, which serves New Yorkers experiencing housing instability, and various emergency rental arrears assistance services, such as One Shot Deal, also continue to be available to many immigrants. Visit nyc.gov/homebase and access.nyc.gov for more information.
New Rules for Your Workplace
There are also expanded City laws in place to protect New Yorkers at work. Building on the laws passed in 2014, new sick leave rights went into effect on January 1, 2021. That means, employers in NYC with 100 or more employees must now provide up to 56 hours of paid sick leave. Employers with 5-100 employees and those with four or fewer employees and a net income of $1 million or more must provide 40 hours of paid sick leave. There were also new rights that went into effect in September 2020, including that employers must provide domestic workers with 40 hours of paid sick leave and that newly hired employees are allowed to begin taking paid leave immediately.
Paid sick leave is a critical tool in our fight against the pandemic, and it can be used for a broad range of health and other needs. New Yorkers should take advantage of paid sick leave to stay home if they or a loved one is sick—without losing income; get a flu shot; recovery, quarantine, or preventative care (like testing or getting the vaccine) relating to COVID-19; to care for a child whose school has been closed as a result of the pandemic; or if their workplace has been closed by an Executive Order relating to the pandemic. For more information, for both employers and employees—including the updated Notice of Employee Rights, which is available in 26 languages, visit nyc.gov/workers or call 212-436-0380. You also have the right to additional sick leave under New York State law—visit paidfamilyleave.ny.gov/covid19 or call 844-337-6303 for more information.
These are critical protections for all of us, especially immigrant communities, in this difficult time. But COVID-19 has also highlighted the need for more robust and permanent protections, and we must continue to do our part to advance a bold federal vision that is inclusive of everyone, regardless of immigration status.
In the meantime, New Yorkers should be informed about and take advantage of the important local protections in place to help stay safe and healthy. The City owes it to you, and we owe it to our communities. Visit nyc.gov/immigrants/coronavirus for information about the many resources—including health, housing, food, and more—available to all New Yorkers.
These new protections add to existing protections under the most expansive human rights law in the nation. Harassment and discrimination based on race, national origin, age, and disability—including having COVID-19 or another serious illness—is illegal in housing, employment, and public accommodations under the New York City Human Rights Law. We encourage all New Yorkers, whether or not you have sought assistance under the new rules and protections above, to also visit nyc.gov/StopCOVIDHate to learn more about your protections under the NYC Human Rights Law.
This piece was originally published in the Queens Chronicle.