Battle brews over rent relief program as N.Y. eviction moratorium to expire on Saturday
New York’s eviction moratorium is set to expire in a matter of days, leaving financially strapped tenants with little recourse and landlord groups livid over the reopening of a tapped-out program meant to help.
Following a court order, State officials reopened the application portal for its COVID rent relief program late Tuesday, offering some protection but little promise of assistance since the program’s coffers are exhausted.
Those who apply will be protected against eviction while the state reviews their application.
The Legal Aid Society, whose lawsuit prompted the reopening of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, encouraged New Yorkers in need of financial assistance and eviction protection to apply ahead of the Jan. 15 lifting of the state’s eviction ban.
“We urge all New Yorkers in need of rent relief to immediately apply… as a pending application will provide temporary protection from eviction, regardless of whether the state receives additional funding,” Ed Josephson, supervising attorney in the civil law reform unit at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.
Gov. Hochul made clear this week the state has no plan to further extend the eviction moratorium, in place throughout the bulk of the pandemic, though she is once again calling on the federal government to pony up more funds to help replenish ERAP’s depleted coffers.
She added that she is working with lawmakers on the issue, although legislators left Albany Wednesday without concrete plans.
“What we want to do is let people know that that is concluding very shortly. I’m having conversations with the legislature on what to do on this issue,” Hochul said during a Tuesday press conference in Manhattan.
The state Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, tasked with running the rent relief program, has doled out about half of the $2.4 billion in federal funding provided. However, the remaining money has yet to be sent out to struggling landlords due to logistical issues.
Hochul lamented the fact that New York is only on track to receive $27 million in additional federal rental aid after requesting another $1 billion.
Landlord groups, meanwhile, fumed over the Legal Aid Society’s push to have renters apply for assistance when there are no available funds to cover applications.
“The Legal Aid Society is encouraging fraud – not to mention being disingenuous and irresponsible – by urging tenants to apply for unfunded assistance, regardless of whether they qualify, just for the sake of obtaining an eviction stay,” Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association, which represents landlords in the city, said in a statement.
“This is cruel and misleading because based on OTDA’s own admission when it reopened the program portal, Legal Aid is fully aware that it is giving false hope that doesn’t exist without the federal dollars to fund the rent relief program.”
Building owners have also said renters are protected by the Tenant Safe Harbor Act, which created a special COVID defense that tenants can use in court if they’ve faced financial hardship due to the pandemic should they face eviction.
Meanwhile, advocates and progressive lawmakers are calling Hochul and the Legislature to take other steps to help avoid the crush of evictions predicted to be filed following the expiration of the moratorium.
Housing advocates are pushing for the passage of Good Cause Eviction legislation that would guarantee tenants the right to renew a lease and essentially place a cap on how much landlords can increase rent.
Dozens of Hochul’s fellow Dems across the state penned a letter to the governor Wednesday encouraging her to come out in support of the tenant-friendly bill.
“We believe that Good Cause Eviction is the best way to prevent hundreds of thousands of households from displacement as pandemic-era interventions lapse,” they wrote.