Eviction prevention and utility assistance legislation signed into law

In Union City, Gov. Phil Murphy signed two new bills to help tenants and landlords

Gov Murphy signs legislation allocating $750 million for eviction prevention and utility assistance, joined by Union City officials. Photo via Governor’s Office
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Gov Murphy signs legislation allocating $750 million for eviction prevention and utility assistance, joined by Union City officials. Photo via Governor’s Office

Gov. Phil Murphy has signed two pieces of legislation into law to provide housing eviction prevention and utility assistance for renters who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have heard the continuing calls for help from New Jerseyans who are struggling to pay their rent and utilities,” Murphy said. “COVID-19 has put tenants and landlords in a difficult place, and I am pleased to say that more assistance is on the way.“

Murphy signed the bills into law in Union City, alongside Mayor and State Senator Brian Stack and other cosponsors.

“This past year has been some of the hardest times in most people’s lives,” Stack said. “I’ve been desperately trying to help my constituents in Union City and greater Hudson County since the very beginning of the pandemic, and have heard firsthand all that they have gone through. We have to recognize that includes many landlords, especially those with only a few tenants, who are also struggling to pay their own bills.”

Help is on the way

The first bill appropriates $500 million from the American Rescue Plan aid for the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CVERAP) and $250 million for utility assistance, both programs administered by the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

The rental and utility relief is available to residents with income less than 120 percent of the area’s median income, expanding from 80 percent. At the local level, in Hudson County that means a family of four that makes less than $83,400 would qualify for help, according to Murphy.

“This bill is going to direct money to the people and programs that need it most,” Murphy said. “Housing and access to utilities are fundamental to human health and safety and we want to ensure that as many eligible applicants impacted by the pandemic get the help they need during this challenging time.”

Tenants with eviction cases for nonpayment of rent or failure to pay rent increases, from March 2020 to Aug. 31, 2021, can have their cases dismissed if they testify under oath they can’t make payments due to the pandemic and meet other requirements. The rent owed for that time period will become civil debt, which can’t be used to deny future housing nor can be reported to creditors.

New deadlines

The bill also mandates new eviction and foreclosure moratorium deadlines. In the beginning of the pandemic, Murphy signed a moratorium on evictions to prevent the eviction of tenants who had lost jobs or sources of income as a result of the pandemic.

Since then, landlords haven’t been able to evict tenants, but have been able to file cases in court. As a result, when the moratorium is lifted, an enormous wave of evictions is anticipated.

The eviction prevention bill aims to prevent this by gradually phasing out the state’s eviction moratorium based on individual renters’ situations. Renters who make less than 80 percent of the area’s median income cannot be evicted until Dec. 31. The moratorium will end on Aug. 31 for those above that threshold. The foreclosure moratorium on homeowners will be end on Nov. 15.

Murphy signed another piece of legislation, A-4463, mandating that court records pertaining to nonpayment during this period be kept confidential.

Win win

Landlord groups and housing advocates alike praised both bills.

“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,” said David Brogan, Executive Director of the New Jersey Apartment Association. “At the end of the day, 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 COVID-19 pandemic created an unprecedented situation for many New Jerseyans,” said James Williams, Director of Racial Justice Policy at the Fair Share Housing Center. “Black and Latino communities were hit especially hard by the pandemic, and are also disproportionately represented among those currently facing eviction in our state. The $750 million in assistance, as well as the protections provided by this legislation, will provide critical support to individuals and families across our state.”

Some housing advocates called for more help for tenants.

“We have more work to do to stop the looming housing crisis once and for all,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia, NJ Citizen Action Financial Justice Program Director. “HUD-certified housing counselors at NJ Citizen Action are bracing themselves for the end of the eviction moratorium and the projected overwhelming number of families who will be in need of assistance to stay in their homes. It is critical that the polices in this bill are implemented quickly and effectively, and that additional steps are taken, including making more funds available, to achieve the strongest COVID housing protections and recovery possible. With the delta variant infections on the rise, we must recommit to ensuring no one in New Jersey is turned onto the street because of the pandemic.”

Anti-vaxxers crash the party

At the bill signing, Murphy also discussed COVID-19 statistics as of Aug. 4: New Jersey has “over 1,100 new cases; 13 confirmed losses of life; 598 folks in our hospitals, 99 of whom are in the Intensive Care Unit; 90 people went to the hospital yesterday, thank God 76 left; the positivity rate is now over 5 percent. The rate of transmission is actually coming down a little.”

Following this, Murphy took note of protesters carrying signs with anti-vaccine slogans such as “no forced injections.”

“We are still in the fight,” Murphy said. “Please get vaccinated if you are not vaccinated. Please get vaccinated. Period.”

He then addressed the protesters directly: “These folks back there have lost their minds! You’ve lost your minds! You are the ultimate knuckleheads and because of what you are saying and standing for, people are losing their life! People are losing their life! And you have to know that! Look in the mirror! Look in the mirror!”

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.