Biden, Sanders Demand 3-Month Freeze on Rent Payments, Eviction of Tenants Across U.S.

Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders joined state lawmakers in New York and California in calls to freeze and forgive rent payments, as millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet under coronavirus lockdown.

Both Sanders and Biden followed several state-level Democrats in demanding a 90-day or three-month moratorium in tenants paying rent to landlords. After nationwide U.S. confirmed cases of coronavirus surpassed 100,000 Friday, Biden concurred with California Governor Gavin Newsom's executive order protecting renters from eviction as a direct result of medical or employment issues tied to COVID-19. Sanders offered his support on Saturday to New York State Senator Mike Gianaris, who is leading "#CancelRent" calls, and who proposed Senate Bill 8125A Friday to suspend rent payments for small businesses and tenants who've either had their paychecks eliminated or reduced by the coronavirus quarantine.

Gianaris told Newsweek Saturday the logic of his legislative proposal is simple: how can renters be expected to pay rent when the government has -- with good reason -- suspended their employment?

"Let's start from the bottom-up and protect tenants whose job was taken from them by an act of the government, and whose most pressing financial obligation for the 90-day period is paying rent," Gianaris told Newsweek by phone Saturday afternoon. "[The federal bailout] supports the big boys -- airlines, banks - but we should provide help for small businesses and lower income tenants to soften the landing at end of the crisis."

Sanders, the progressive Vermont senator agreed Saturday on Twitter: "Along with pausing mortgage payments, evictions, and utility shutoffs, we must place a moratorium on rent payments, especially in states hardest-hit by the coronavirus like New York. We must build on the important work @sengianaris and others are doing to make this happen."

Speaking Friday night at a CNN town hall, Biden said of rent payments, "Freeze it and forgive it so that you're able to stay in that place ... There should be a rent freeze. No one should be evicted during this period -- period." The vice president added that stipulations would include helping small businesses and targeting people whose income is below $75,000.

With the first of the month looming for April, California Governor Newsom on Friday ordered a moratorium on evictions through the end of May for people hit by job loss, furlough, loss of hours, sick leave or medical expenses. Under the California stipulations, tenants must notify landlords within seven days of failure to make a rent payment and must provide documentation from a doctor or employer regarding their circumstances.

Gianaris, who represents the 12th district spanning Queens, New York, received Sanders' support Saturday as he hopes to push Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Assembly to expand homeowner and mortgage protections to renters. Cuomo's plan unveiled last week would seek to relieve COVID-19-related economic hardship for homeowners in New York by ensuring that a failure to pay mortgages would not hurt credit reports -- but that doesn't currently extend to renters.

"The need to #CancelRent for 90 days cannot be overstated. Over the past ten days I've heard countless stories of tenants in distress and one basic fact remains: People CANNOT pay rent if they don't have a paycheck," Gianaris tweeted Thursday. "We are not moving fast enough. We must #CancelRent and provide other relief ASAP."

Critics of the federal government's massive $2 trillion-plus stimulus plan have referred to the direct deposit of around $1,200 to people making under $75,000 as simply an immediate April 1 payment to landlords. When pressed on social media about how his #CancelRent proposal would hurt New York City building owners, Gianaris replied that his proposal includes "mortgage forgiveness for landlords in need."

Several New York City Council members and other officials agreed with Gianaris' weeks-long complaints that "tenants can't pay rent if they can't earn a living," as he tweeted on March 20. The country's largest city and several other major urban areas including San Francisco remain under quarantine over the coronavirus pandemic.

"So many people who've lost their jobs & businesses are contacting me worried about paying the rent. They shouldn't have to. I join@SenGianaris in calling to #CancelRent for at least 90 days during this pandemic," remarked Jimmy Van Bramer, a New York City Council member.

joe biden bernie sanders rent
Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders joined state lawmakers in New York and California in freezing and forgiving rent payments as millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet under coronavirus lockdown. DREW ANGERER / Staff/Getty Images