An aerial view of the Statehouse in Trenton
By Joshua Burd
A bill that would wind down New Jersey’s moratorium on residential evictions is headed for Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk, drawing cheers from many landlords after months of uncertainty.
David Brogan, the executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association, praised state lawmakers on Thursday after the passage of S3691 by both the Senate and Assembly. Under the measure, the eviction ban imposed at the start of the COVID-19 public health emergency last year would end on Aug. 31 for renters who earn above 80 percent of the area median income, while those below that threshold would receive another four months of protections.
Brogan gave special recognition to state Sen. Brian Stack, the influential Hudson County Democrat.
“Senator Stack did a tremendous job bringing together representatives from both tenant and landlord advocacy groups to forge a meaningful compromise,” he said. “This landmark legislation is a comprehensive approach toward ending the eviction moratorium, while providing tenant protections and additional rental assistance. This will ensure that as we transition out of the pandemic, landlords are provided with 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 balances the need to ensure housing stability for tenants as the pandemic winds down while ensuring that 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 apartment owners 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 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 finances 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 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 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.
Additionally, the 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. 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.
“We look forward to Gov. Murphy signing the legislation and Lt. Gov. Oliver administering this new program,” Brogan said. “Landlords and tenants are in need and the tools to help them are in the hands of government. It is imperative that the Department of Community Affairs provide this assistance as efficiently and effectively as possible. We look forward to working with the administration to ensure the viability of New Jersey’s housing stock.”