Rent Freeze vs. Rent Cancellation: Why They’re Different, and What That Means For NYC Renters

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Updated 08/18/2020

The twin stressors of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and economic turmoil have touched every corner of daily life for New York City. Residents have also shown great resilience, turning the pandemic into a catalyst for activism and organizing, resulting in important changes to tenants rights. Most notably, this includes NY’s eviction moratorium, a temporary suspension of all eviction proceedings in New York City until at least October 1, in support of safety and “stay-at-home” orders that help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Temporarily banning evictions however, is not the same as eliminating rent. While this moratorium does offer protections to NYC tenants against the eviction based on non-payment of rent due to the coronavirus, it does not offer rent forgiveness for this period of time, so tenants will still owe this money when the moratorium is lifted. This article will help you to understand the differences between a rent freeze and a rent cancellation, as well as get the latest information about changes in NYC rent laws. 

Please be advised that is not a public health authority. Those seeking medical information or assistance should contact a medical professional and review resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO),  and the NYC Health Department.

What is a rent freeze?

Typically, the term “rent freeze” refers to a situation in which a tenant’s owed rent amount stabilizes, or remains “frozen,” at a fixed rate for a certain period of time. In such cases a tenant’s rent would not increase accordingly with changes in the economy or housing market (or rather, any increase would be covered while the tenant’s contribution remains the same).

In New York, rent freezes on a wider scale usually apply to tenants living in the City’s 1.1 million rent stabilized apartments. In 2020, New York City’s Rent Guidelines Board, which oversees rents for these apartments, voted to freeze rents on one year leases. Two year leases got a rent freeze on the first year, and a 1% increase on the second year. 

Tenants currently enrolled in the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) and Disability Rent Increase Exemption (DRIE) programs may also be eligible for freezes under New York City’s Rent Freeze Program which “helps those eligible stay in affordable housing by freezing their rent” and covering the difference between the tenant’s owed rent and the actual rent with a property tax credit.

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What is rent cancellation?

Different from a rent freeze, “rent cancellation” refers to the actual elimination of owed rent payments from tenants. The terms “rent suspension” or “rent erasure” may also be used to refer to this situation, in which a tenant has rent forgiveness and does not owe their regular rent for a certain period of time (nor will they owe this money after the identified time period ends).

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How do recent changes in NYC rent laws affect me?

If you are already part of NYC’s Rent Freeze Program, note that recipients have been given “an automatic six month grace period to renew” due to the COVID-19 health crisis.

The NYC Rent Guidelines Board freeze goes into effect on October 1, 2020.

Otherwise, no official form of rent cancellation or suspension has been ordered in NYC during the coronavirus health crisis. However, you can join, Right to Counsel NYC Coalition, and other partners in the fight for housing justice calling for rent suspension in NYC as COVID-19 continues to impact our communities.

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What if I can’t pay rent?

Under the terms of New York State’s Eviction moratorium, landlords cannot evict tenants who have been financially impacted by COVID-19 for rent non-payment until at least October 1. If you’re unable to pay rent because of COVID-19, see the Right to Counsel Coalition’s guide to staying in your apartment even if you can’t pay rent. 

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Stay Up to Date with Information from Our Partners

Landlord Watch

The team at Landlord Watch has compiled Frequently Asked Questions for those using the voucher system to get an apartment during the duration of COVID-19. You can also:

Right to Counsel NYC Coalition

The Right to Counsel NYC Coalition is a group of tenants, organizers, advocates, and legal services organizations who run campaigns to stop the eviction crisis in New York City. Their COVID-19 resources include:

Metropolitan Council on Housing

The Metropolitan Council on Housing is a tenants’ rights membership organization made up of New York City tenants organizing for changes to housing policies. Their Tenants’ Rights Telephone Hotline is available for any and all housing questions.

More info:

  • Free to any tenant living in New York City.

  • Schedule is Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:30 PM to 8 PM, Tuesdays from 5:30 PM to 8 PM, and Fridays from 1:30 PM to 5 PM. The hotline is closed on holidays and other times when volunteers are unexpectedly unavailable.

  • Available in English and Spanish.

  • Phone number is (212) 979-0611.

Housing Court Answers

Housing Court Answers is an organization that educates and empowers tenants and small homeowners without lawyers to navigate and represent themselves in housing court. They host a hotline to answer questions related to housing law, rent arrears assistance, general housing court questions, and homelessness prevention.

More info:

  • Free to any tenant living in New York City.

  • Schedule is Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 5 PM.

  • Available in any language.

  • Phone number is (212) 962-4795.

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