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Tenants rights advocates want universal eviction moratorium

State Assembly member Demond Meeks, gives details about his arrest during a Facebook live video
State Assembly member Demond Meeks, gives details about his arrest during a Facebook live video

 In the wake of a recent protest against the eviction of a Rochester woman and her family that ended with several arrests, tenants rights activists are pushing for a universal eviction moratorium.

One of the people arrested was New York state Assembly member Demond Meeks. Meeks' arrest was captured live on Facebookwhile he filmed officers at the eviction of Clianda Florence Yarde from her Glasgow Street apartment. 

Dozens of police wearing what Meeks described as “riot gear” showed up to enforce the eviction. Meeks said the amount of force that was used to execute an eviction warrant during a pandemic is inhumane. 

“People have to have a sense of empathy and put themselves in someone else’s shoes," said Meeks. “Could you imagine being that child and seeing your mom taken away in handcuffs and the level of trauma that is evoked on an individual and their children?” 

Meeks is a co-sponsor of a bill for a universal eviction moratorium. He said there are laws to protect tenants, but there needs to be a change in law enforcement practices and holding property owners accountable.

Ryan Acuff, a member of Rochester’s City-Wide Tenant Union, agrees. He said the current state eviction moratorium has loopholes that don’t protect tenants who are being evicted for reasons other than nonpayment.

In Florence Yarde’s case, her issues with her landlord, John Trickey, began well before the pandemic.

Florence Yarde claims Trickey had dozens of property violations and was trying to evict her out of retaliation for reporting them.

Trickey said that despite Florence-Yarde withholding rent and being unable to prove her claims of retaliation in court, he wasn’t interested in receiving money she owed him. Instead, they made an agreement in front of Judge Lopez in October that Florence-Yarde would move out by Nov. 30. However, when the time came, she had nowhere to go.

Trickey said that he feels bad for Florence-Yarde and her family, but his lawyers advised him to not extend her lease. 

He said the events leading up to Lopez’s issuing an eviction warrant were out of his hands. 

“It wasn’t a good situation, but it's one she could have helped to avoid,” said Trickey.

The current eviction moratorium allows tenants facing eviction for unpaid rent to use financial hardship as a defense in court. If they are able to prove financial hardship during the covered period, they are allowed to stay in their apartments, but, they are still responsible for paying back rent. 

Unless extended by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s current moratorium will end on Jan 1.

Meeks said it is not likely that the bill supporting a universal moratorium will be up for debate at the state Assembly this week, but he encouraged people to make the demand.

“We need the masses to put pressure on their representation and to speak out to the government,” said Meeks.

April Franklin is an occasional local host of WXXI's Weekend Edition.