The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated New Jersey’s housing crisis. Necessary public health measures taken during the pandemic and job loss has caused severe economic difficulties for landlords and tenants alike.
To help alleviate the pressure landlords and renters are experiencing as we begin to see an end to emergency measures enacted during the public health crisis, two bills aiming to ward off eviction and help residents navigate rental assistance programs was approved by the full Assembly on Thursday, 74-0.
One bill (A-5685), sponsored by Assembly members Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex), Benjie Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic), Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) and Shanique Speight (D-Essex) would provide financial relief to certain residential landlords and tenants in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, the bill would protect low-income, moderate-income, and middle-income households from residential evictions based upon nonpayment or habitual late payment of rent that accrued during the covered period, which began on March 1, 2020, and would last until the end of August, 2021. In addition to eviction and credit reporting protections the bill provides landlords and tenants with substantial rental assistance through the existing Homelessness Prevention Program agencies in consultation with DCA.
Another measure (A-5905), also sponsored by Assemblywomen Timberlake and Speight and Assemblyman William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester), would establish the “Rental Assistance Navigation Program” in Department of Community Affairs (“DCA”) as a program to facilitate the prevention of residential evictions due to nonpayment and habitual late payment of rent during the COVID period, a timeframe from March 1, 2020, through December 31, 2021. The types of nonpayment eviction actions prohibited would also include those for any refusal to pay or agree to a rental increase during the COVID period. If a residential tenant has missed one or more rent payments during the COVID period, the bill would allow the tenant, or their landlord, to apply for rental assistance through the program.
The sponsors issued the following statement on both measures:
“The loss of millions of jobs and the resulting economic crisis caused by the pandemic has the potential to trigger an eviction tsunami in the coming months if we do not act now. It is estimated that more than 300,000 tenants could face eviction following the end of the eviction moratorium established under Executive Order 106, a significant increase over pre-pandemic filings.
“While many tenants have faced economic hardship during the pandemic, landlords have shouldered the financial burden of housing their tenants, maintaining their buildings, paying their mortgages, taxes, and other financial obligations with limited help from the State or federal government and reduced rental income. These measures will provide significant eviction protections to struggling tenants and a steady stream of assistance income to struggling landlords as New Jersey recovers from the pandemic.
“There is also a backlog in the courts where more than 194,000 eviction cases are currently pending. Enlisting the Department of Community Affairs to help facilitate rental assistance and eviction programs will create an alternate means of adjudicating the challenge renters and landlords are facing, providing an alternative route to financial relief than the courts.”