NYC Tenants Can Still Avoid Eviction By Applying For State’s Rental Aid Program Despite SCOTUS Ruling

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision Friday that partially blocked the state’s eviction moratorium, housing rights advocates urge renters in need to pursue other avenues to avoid losing their homes.

“There are other laws that do protect tenants that people should know about,” said Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney for Legal Aid’s Law Reform Unit.

The Supreme Court ruled that the state’s eviction moratorium violated due process by allowing tenants to claim economic hardship by filling out a form. According to the decision, tenants must prove economic hardship with evidence in court. The state’s eviction moratorium was to last until the end of August.

But there’s another protection for tenants in need, Davidson said; namely, the state’s $2.7 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), which is intended to help households with income at or below 80% of the area median income (AMI)—$95,450 for a family of four in New York City—with up to 12 months of rental and utility arrears payments.

“By applying for rent relief, you will have an eviction moratorium,” Davidson said. “Your case cannot move forward while the state is processing that application.”

Tenants are protected from eviction for a year after they apply for ERAP even if their landlords don’t cooperate, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which is administering the program.

“Under New York State’s program, if a landlord refuses to provide information needed to complete a tenant’s application, or refuses to accept funds, the tenant will be provided with an eligibility letter that they can provide to the court if their landlord does attempt to evict them,” the OTDA said.

The ERAP application has been criticized for being onerous to fill out. The state’s website has also been criticized as difficult to navigate and plagued with tech issues. Critics have also questioned why the funding, which is paid directly to participating landlords, has been slow to disburse.

“Most of the money has not gotten out of the door and that’s why it feels really irresponsible for the state to allow evictions to start taking place,” said tenant advocate Sumathy Kumar of Housing Justice For All.

The OTDA said a large chunk of the funds have been allocated to applicants even if their landlords haven’t received the payments yet.

“The program has obligated more than $460 million to help roughly 31,000 low- and moderate-income renters that have applied to avoid eviction resulting from pandemic-related hardship. In addition, there are now more than 158,000 tenants that have a completed application under review and are now protected from eviction, which is why we strongly encourage all eligible New Yorkers to apply for this assistance,” said OTDA Commissioner Mike Hein in a statement.

Davidson encouraged renters to apply for the ERAP if they need either financial rental assistance or protection from evictions.

“I think some tenants have been holding off applying because they hoped that the problems with the application would be resolved, and then they could easily apply for the program,” she said. “But at this point, because we don’t have an eviction law in New York State anymore, it is more important that people apply for the rent relief when they owe their landlord some money.”

The Centers For Disease Control also issued a moratorium on physical evictions, though landlords can still file eviction paperwork, in parts of the country where there are “substantial or high” COVID-19 community transmission rates. New York City, Long Island, Westchester, and New Jersey all have substantial or high rates of transmission, according to the CDC’s current data. That moratorium has been extended until October 3rd.

For tenants who are already battling cases in housing court, Davidson advised obtaining legal counsel.

“(If) they were in housing court already, and they don’t have an attorney, they should ask for an attorney,” she said. “We have a right to counsel in New York City and there are a number of laws that can protect people from eviction and keep people in their homes. And the best way to make sure that tenants take advantage of those protections is to seek and get an attorney to help them with their case.”

Note: this article has been corrected to say the Supreme Court decision partially blocked the eviction moratorium program and did not completely end the program.