Protecting renters

North Bergen's rent increase moratorium extended until April

Renters across the county have been facing financial hardships due to COVID-19.
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Renters across the county have been facing financial hardships due to COVID-19.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many residents have faced financial hardships due to job loss or loss of income. In many Hudson County municipalities, rent increases were frozen to help renters cope.

In North Bergen, Mayor Nicholas Sacco and the Board of Commissioners have again moved to extend the moratorium on rent increases. The Board of Commissioners met via Zoom last month and adopted an ordinance continuing the moratorium.

The ordinance extends the moratorium until April 30, when conditions will be reassessed.

Preventing rent hikes

The township first adopted an ordinance establishing a moratorium on rent increases on May 13.

The ordinance prevents landlords from increasing rent on rent-controlled properties, including charges for parking, pets, or any other fees associated with dwelling units.

“This pandemic has affected all of us in different ways,” Sacco said in May. “Enacting this rent freeze protects local renters during an incredibly difficult time. We will continue to do everything in our power to ease the burden on our residents, particularly the most vulnerable. Working together is the only way we can overcome this pandemic.”

The rent freeze came after a resolution was signed during the April 22 commissioners meeting, urging all township landlords to refrain from raising rents and other fees. In July, the commissioners extended the moratorium to Nov. 1; in October, they extended it to Dec. 31.

“We’re being consistent with everyone around us,” Sacco said in October. Recently, Jersey City also extended its rent freeze for rent-controlled units.

State assistance

Gov. Phil Murphy issued an executive order in March placing a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures that would prevent tenants from being removed from their homes. The eviction moratorium will last until two months after Murphy declares an end to the COVID-19 health crisis.

Eviction court proceedings have been halted by the New Jersey Supreme Court due to COVID-19. Landlords can still file eviction complaints against tenants, though trials will be held only for emergencies.

Additionally, the second phase of the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program will open on March 22. The $353 million program funded by the American Rescue Plan will help NJ families in need of rental assistance during the pandemic.

Applicants may be eligible for up to 12 months of rental assistance to help pay for rent arrears incurred after March 13, 2020, and future rent to the extent that funds are available. Households that already received assistance in Phase I of the program but need additional rent support and have not yet received the maximum 12 months of emergency rental assistance can apply for additional funding.

Applications can be submitted online starting at 9 a.m. on March 22 at njdca.onlinepha.com. Participants will be selected from the overall pool of applicants through a randomized process based on eligibility and lottery criteria.

Applicants may qualify for assistance if: they are a New Jersey resident 18 years of age or older; they qualifiy for unemployment or have experienced a reduction in household income, incurred significant costs, or experienced a financial hardship due, directly or indirectly, to the COVID-19 pandemic; they demonstrates a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; they have a household income at or below 80 percent of the area median income.

Every three months, the applicant’s household income and COVID-19 impact will be reviewed to determine if assistance is still needed and then re-certified. If deemed eligible, applicants may only receive a maximum of three months of assistance at each recertification for future rent payments. Assistance that is no longer required will be used to serve additional families.

For more information, go online to nj.gov/dca/cverap2.shtml.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.