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220,000 Tenants on the Brink and Counting

March 17, 2021

Communities of Color Bear the Brunt as Landlords Sue Tenants for Rent They Can’t Pay

Almost one full year since the first COVID-19 lockdown, New York’s tenant movement has been organizing just as long to prevent mass evictions and catastrophic homelessness. In December 2020, legislators passed significant – yet temporary – protections for renters with the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act. With just two months remaining before those protections expire, tenants are once again on the brink of homelessness while their fate is negotiated.

The patchwork of eviction protections, emergency aid, and rent relief the federal and state governments have given to some New Yorkers so far are piecemeal, temporary measures that do not address the monumental rent debt they have accrued since the beginning of the pandemic. Tenants – especially tenants of color who continue to be hit hardest by COVID-19 – are in crisis now.

Without a comprehensive solution, there will be mass evictions and a widening of the racial wealth gap. Tenants need a universal, blanket moratorium as well as true relief from mounting rent debt.

A total of 222,135 New York State tenants (and counting) have active cases in court and face eviction in May when the moratorium ends. Landlords have taken 53,811 commercial and residential tenants across New York State to court for eviction since the COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020.[1] For an up-to-date count of active eviction cases across the state, see Right to Counsel NYC’s new Eviction Crisis Monitor developed in collaboration with ANHD, JustFix.nyc, and the Housing Data Coalition. (See our coverage in the New York Times.)

Estimates of rent debt are as high as $2.2 billion statewide and $2 billion in New York City alone. Despite eviction protections, ANHD’s analysis of court data from the New York State Office of Court Administration shows that landlords have sued 32,576 New York City households for $265,460,130 since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Landlords have sued 938 commercial tenants for an additional $68,903,439.[2]

Mounting rent debt and impending evictions is a crisis of racial injustice. Landlords have sued New York City tenants for an average of $8,150, but nationally, Black and Latinx households only have a median of $1,500 in savings. The millions of dollars that landlords have already claimed in housing court foreshadow a debt crisis that will devastate Black and Latinx families in our city without true rent relief.

Mapping eviction filings and COVID-19 death rates corroborates that people of color are bearing the brunt of multiple crises – as was the case at the beginning of the pandemic. Landlords are filing evictions 3.6 times faster in zip codes with the highest rates of death from COVID-19. Residents of the zip codes hit hardest by COVID-19 are 68.2% people of color, compared to 29.2% in the neighborhoods hit least hard.


This map shows data as of February 25, 2021. For up-to-date data on eviction filings, visit the RTC Eviction Crisis Monitor.


Landlords have filed 15,517 evictions in the zip codes with the highest death rates from COVID-19 (the top 25%) since the initial moratorium in March and 4,224 in the zip codes with the lowest death rates (the bottom 25%).[3] RTCNYC’s Eviction Crisis Monitor further illuminates disparities in eviction case rates during the pandemic by zip code.

The impacts of the pandemic and eviction crisis on people of color is magnitudes greater than its impacts on New York City’s white population. Across the board, tenants cannot pay rent they’re being sued for and need government intervention to stop this economic fallout. New Yorkers have already reached the brink – it’s time to act.

Visit Right to Counsel NYC to see how many New Yorkers are on the brink of homelessness, what neighborhoods have the highest rate of eviction cases, and join their fight to make New York eviction-free.


[1] Data from the New York State Office of Court Administration (NYS OCA) via github.com/austensen and NYCDB. Case totals include holdover and nonpayment evictions for commercial and residential tenants in New York State since March 23, 2020. Cases outside of New York City include cities but not towns or villages. See documentation for more information. Based on available data as of March 9, 2021.

[2] NYS OCA, sum of primary claim totals between March 23, 2020 and March 9, 2021. See data dictionary.

[3] Eviction filing rates per zip code include residential evictions only and are calculated as the number of eviction filings since March 23, 2020 divided by the number of residential units in 2+ unit properties (using PLUTO 19v2). Single-unit properties are excluded, as they are most likely to be owner-occupied. Based on available data as of February 25, 2021.

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