Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed S3691, which provides a host of protections to apartment renters while ending the residential eviction ban on Aug. 31 for tenants who earn above 80 percent of the area median income. — NJOIT/Governor’s Office
By Joshua Burd
Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday took a key step toward phasing out the state’s moratorium on residential evictions, signing a bill to do so while providing relief to both renters and landlords.
The measure, S3691, provides a host of protections to apartment renters while ending the eviction ban on Aug. 31 for those who earn above 80 percent of the area median income. Those below that threshold would receive another four months of protections, according to the bill, which also appropriates $750 million in federal funds for rental and utility assistance.
The law comes days after the Centers for Disease Control extended the federal government’s own moratorium to Oct. 3, although the mandate is already facing legal challenges and questions over whether it will hold up in court. Still, the New Jersey Apartment Association cheered the action by Murphy after working with state lawmakers, including Sen. Brian Stack, on what it felt was a pragmatic approach to ending the ban.
“This historic legislation is a comprehensive approach to ending the eviction moratorium while providing tenant protections and additional rental assistance,” said David Brogan, the NJAA’s executive director. “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. 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.”
Murphy imposed the eviction ban in March 2020 among many steps aimed at stemming the widespread economic damage caused by the pandemic. Many landlords have made arrangements with tenants who were struggling financially, but were staring down their own business expenses while raising alarm about tenants who took advantage of the moratorium.
According to the bill, 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 ban is lifted.
S3691 effectively allows 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 are available for those that can attest to their income levels, the impact that COVID-19 has had on their finances and that they have applied for rental assistance.
“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. This bill is going to direct money to the people and programs that need it most. 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.”
The bill also prohibits 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 measure — whose other lead sponsors include Ronald L. Rice and Teresa M. Ruiz in the Senate and Britnee N. Timberlake, Benjie E. Wimberly, Angela V. McKnight and Shanique Speight in the Assembly — outlines other 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.
Additionally, S3691 creates an Eviction Prevention Program with $500 million for rental assistance and $250 million for utility assistance, using federal money from a variety of sources. That 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.
Brogan again praised Stack, a longtime Hudson County Democratic leader, for bringing together stakeholder groups from both sides. He added that “with $500 million in rental assistance from this bill, coupled with the $600 million the state has already received in federal rental assistance, New Jersey can provide $1.1 billion in meaningful assistance to tenants and landlords who need it most.”
“It is imperative that the Department of Community Affairs provide this assistance as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Brogan said. “We look forward to working with the administration to ensure the viability of New Jersey’s housing stock.”
“The pandemic has been devastating for both landlords and tenants and we thank Senator Stack for coming to a reasonable compromise that recognizes the struggles of both groups,” he added. “Landlords and tenants are inextricably linked, and this bill takes into account both perspectives while creating a pragmatic pathway out of this pandemic.”