By Joshua Burd
A bill that would end New Jersey’s eviction ban later this summer while still providing protections to many apartment renters is poised for a full vote in the state Legislature.
Under the measure, S3691, the moratorium imposed at the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency last year would end on Aug. 31. Any rent due and owed starting from March 1, 2020, through the end of the ban would be turned into civil debt that would be owed to the landlord but cannot be used as the basis for an eviction, helping the state avoid a wave of evictions when the moratorium is lifted.
The bill also provides an additional four months of protections for tenants who make less than 80 percent of the area median income, meaning they cannot be evicted for nonpayment of rent through Dec. 31.
The legislation, whose sponsors include Sen. Brian Stack and Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake, has been the subject of intense debate among lawmakers, apartment industry advocates and stakeholder groups that said the protections for renters didn’t go far enough. But an amended version of the bill, having cleared committees in the Senate and Assembly earlier this week, is now scheduled for full votes in both chambers on Thursday.
Gov. Phil Murphy imposed the eviction ban in March 2020 among many steps aimed at stemming the widespread economic damage caused by the pandemic. Many apartment owners have made arrangements with tenants who were struggling financially, while awaiting the disbursement of federally funded rental assistance and other measures as the pandemic recedes.
But the New Jersey Apartment Association has also raised alarm about tenants who took advantage of the moratorium and simply stopped paying rent, despite having the means to do so. The crisis has placed added pressure on multifamily owners who need to satisfy their own financial obligations, including operating expenses and mortgage payments.
S3691, or A5685 in the Assembly, would effectively allow landlords to begin collecting rent on Sept. 1, having regained the ability to evict tenants for nonpayment. Still, the extended protections for low- and moderate-income households would be available for those that can attest to their income levels, the impact that COVID-19 has had on their financial situation and that they have applied for rental assistance.
The bill would also prevent landlords from sending negative information to the credit reporting agencies or other apartment owners for any debt accrued during the covered period of March 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021. Additionally, landlords would not be allowed to consider eviction records that occurred during the covered period and could not use tenant records based on the nonpayment or habitual late payment of rent that occurred during the period in their screening process.
The legislation outlines other potential solutions for helping landlords and their tenants resolve outstanding debts through the courts, but without the threat of eviction. It also creates a state Office of Eviction Protection, which will identify all funding sources for rental assistance, review and identify gaps in various rental assistance programs and assist more tenants in applying for and receiving the aid.
What’s more, the amended bill would create an Eviction Prevention Program with $500 million for rental assistance and $250 million for utility assistance, using federal money from a variety of sources. The program would supplement the state’s current federally funded rental assistance platform, providing varying degrees of aid to those ranging from very poor residents to those with up to 120 percent of the area median income.