New Jersey is ending its eviction moratorium early but extending protections to keep renters financially harmed by the pandemic in their homes. Governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed a package of laws preventing low-income residents from getting evicted through the end of the year and higher-earners through August.
“This protection does not come with an end date, it is permanent,” Murphy said at a bill signing in Union City. “We are setting a tone that can and should reverberate in other state houses across our country.”
Renters facing eviction due to nonpayment, late payment, or refusal to pay a rent increase must certify they couldn’t make payments due to the pandemic and that they applied for rental assistance in order to have a judge dismiss an eviction proceeding against them.
The only legal way to evict someone in New Jersey is through the courts.
Residents earning less than 80% of their county’s median income are protected from evictions for any missed payments between March 1st, 2020 and December 31st, 2021. Those earning more than 80% of the area’s median income are protected through August 31st. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday also extended protections for renters after the national moratorium on evictions expired last month. The order protects renters earning less than $99,000 as a single filer or less than $198,000 if filing jointly, in high transmission counties through October 3rd. Twenty of New Jersey’s 21 counties, except Warren County, have high rates of transmission.
“This is about your families, having an opportunity to keep a roof over your head,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, D-Dist.34, who co-sponsored one of the bills. “Our homes have so much meaning to us all.”
The compromise package was hard fought for more than a year between tenant advocates and landlords. And while it stops evictions for payment-related issues during the pandemic, landlords can still sue tenants in civil court to recoup owed money.
“This law will ensure that as we transition out of the pandemic, landlords are provided certainty regarding when the eviction moratorium will end along with the rent revenue they need to sustain their businesses,” David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association that represents landlords, said in a statement. “This bill provides and protects housing stability for tenants in need, and ensures that landlords, especially small landlords, are not left in financial ruin.”
The new measures also make any eviction filings that were made due to payment issues between last March and August 3rd confidential so that tenants seeking new units are not disqualified or harmed by what happened during the pandemic. Eviction filings, even if dismissed, can be a negative mark in a tenant’s record and make it difficult to secure housing.
“This legislation is a prescription for preventing evictions, which disproportionately harm Black and Brown families with children,” Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Housing and Community Development Network, said in a statement. “New Jersey is leading the nation by preventing tenants from being evicted for owing back rent during the pandemic and by getting rental assistance to impacted tenants and landlords as quickly as possible.”
More than 68,000 evictions have been filed since April 2020 and older cases have languished after trials were suspended due to the pandemic. To deal with the backlog, the judiciary last month ordered the state’s eviction courts to schedule mandatory settlement conferences, prioritizing older cases with the most owed rent, or newer cases with more than a year’s worth of back rent. Previously, such hearings were voluntary.
Landlords who fail to show up will have the case dismissed and tenants who don’t attend will have a default judgement for their eviction entered by the court though it’s unclear how the new law will impact that process.