What you need to know to navigate N.J.’s new eviction laws, federal moratoriums

Posted Aug 14, 2021

Federal orders and state legislation setting new deadlines and mandates for residential evictions during the coronavirus pandemic has been fast-moving and for many, confusing.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed a new bill on Aug. 4 that laid out two sets of deadlines for evictions and a process for getting cases in landlord-tenant court dismissed. A day earlier, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued its own eviction moratorium that could last for much of the nation until Oct. 3.

Northeast New Jersey Legal Services attorney Lawrence Sindoni admitted it’s been a lot to navigate. His organization provides legal assistance to low-income residents in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties.

“We’re still trying to digest this,” Sindoni said. “It’s a big change and it’s quite confusing. We’ve been reading it, we’ve been re-reading it.”

NJ Advance Media spoke to Sindoni to help readers navigate all the deadlines, orders and legislation about eviction moratoriums. The long and short of it: Don’t wait any longer to certify your income levels or to apply for rental government assistance.

What protections do New Jersey laws currently give tenants?

Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills (S3691 and A4463) into law earlier this month that set deadlines for residential evictions based on a renter’s income.

Renters with a household income above 80% of the area’s median income can be evicted starting Aug. 31. Renters with a household income of less than 80% of the area’s median income will be protected from eviction through Dec. 31.

To see where your household income falls for your region, use this online tool from the federal government: https://www.huduser.gov/portal/datasets/il.html.

Certification can be done online at: https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/renter. The form can be sent to landlord-tenant court if you already have a pending case or it can be forwarded to the court automatically later on if an eviction case is filed against you through Dec. 31.

To have an eviction case for rent nonpayment dismissed, tenants need to certify under penalty of perjury that they were unable to make rent payments due to the pandemic between March 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2021. Even if a person is protected until Dec. 31, Sindoni recommends certifying now and also applying for rental assistance to ensure they’re protected through the end of the year.

A landlord can still sue for unpaid rent that a landlord-tenant court judge finds to not be applicable to the criteria mentioned above. However, rent for that period will become civil debt that cannot be reported to creditors or be used to deny future housing.

What protections are there under the CDC’s latest eviction moratorium?

The CDC’s eviction moratorium is guided by the rate of infection in each county across the United States and household income, Sindoni explained. The latest federal eviction moratorium runs until Oct. 3.

The federal moratorium - as it stands today - generally applies to individuals who earned no more than $99,000 and families who earned less than $198,000 in 2020. A person must have used their best efforts to obtain all governmental assistance for rent or housing.

The CDC’s moratorium applies to people within those income limits who live in areas that are experiencing high rates of coronavirus infection. That definition applies to all of New Jersey right now.

Tenants have to fill out a declaration form to ensure the moratorium applies to them and give it to their landlord. That form may be found on the state’s website.

Does the CDC’s eviction moratorium trump the legislation guiding evictions in New Jersey?

The state’s new laws on evictions already offer strong protections to tenants. However, the CDC’s moratorium could technically offer a few more weeks of protection between Aug. 31 and Oct. 3 to those who make above 80% of their area’s median income level and less than $99,000.

But Sindoni says not to count on the CDC moratorium. It’s already being challenged in federal court and could be ruled unconstitutional before Oct. 3.

Once the CDC moratorium ends, the New Jersey laws mentioned above will be the only protections in place for the Garden State.

Where can tenants or landlords apply for rental assistance?

The legislation Murphy signed earlier this month was meant to protect the rights of both tenants and landlords, officials said. A big part of that is to distribute rental assistance, much of it from the federal American Rescue Plan.

The income certification process on the state’s website prompts applicants to apply for rental assistance through the state Department of Community Affairs.

There are also several county and municipal rental assistance programs. Sindoni recommended calling 211 to learn more about localized programs.

Some programs, like Newark’s or Essex County’s, allow landlords to file for rental assistance on behalf of their tenants. The tenant’s signature is generally needed for the application.

What about utility assistance?

The utility shut-off moratorium ended July 1, but there is a grace period until Dec. 31 for gas, electric and water utility shutoffs. The state’s annual Winter Termination program will remain in effect through March 15, 2022 and prevent electric or gas shutoffs for certain households, including some seniors and low-income families.

Here is a list of resources to apply for utility assistance. It’s recommended that customers first call their utility company to speak about setting up a payment plan as well:

Have a question that has not been addressed here?

  • The state has its own FAQ on renter certifications and the moratorium online.
  • You can always call 211 for more information about assistance programs.
  • Housing Help NJ is a program funded through grants from New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund and the state Department of Community Affairs. It has a trove of information for landlords and tenants.
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published this page in News and Politics 2021-08-15 02:50:42 -0700