New Jersey’s moratorium on evictions is set to be lifted on Saturday after the state has barred most families from being displaced over the past year and nine months with some of the country’s strongest protections as a measure health care system to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Landlords will be able to evict low-income tenants who miss or are behind with January rent, although the length of court proceedings is unclear – judges face backlog of nearly 52,000 landlord-tenant cases at the end of November.

In March 2020, Gov. Phil Murphy halted nearly all evictions for any reason – with the exception of cases of imminent threats – to keep families housed even when they lost their jobs due to business closures. obligatory companies and therefore did not have the income to pay rent.

This decision has considerably reduced the number of deportation requests normally submitted to the courts. In 2019, owners filed 151,000 files, compared to 82,000 in 2020 and 42,000 from January to November 2021.

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But tens of thousands of cases still languished, so Murphy signed a compromise bill in August that had been negotiated with tenant and landlord groups to phase out the moratorium on evictions and help landlords recover their income. lost rentals, while dealing with accumulated cases.

The law revived the court process for cases filed before the pandemic and allowed landlords to evict families during the pandemic period for a dozen reasons, with three exceptions – missing rent payments, usually paying rent late or refuse to pay a rent increase.

Governor Phil Murphy signs S3691 in Union City on August 4, 2021. Bill ends the moratorium on evictions for high-income families on August 31 and December 31 for low-income families

Moderate-income families would never be evicted for these three reasons if the missed payments were made between March 1, 2020 and August 31, 2021, provided they completed a form certifying their income and applied for housing assistance. If the landlords had already filed a complaint against them from this period, the court would dismiss it and the form would prevent future complaints from being made for breach of rent during the protected period.

Low-income families earning less than 80% of their county’s median income would be protected from eviction for missing rent for an even longer period – from March 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021 – if they completed the required paperwork.

Forms for NJ tenants: How to complete the form to have your eviction file closed

What there is to know: How the new moratoriums on NJ deportations and foreclosures work

But tenant advocates fear that too few tenants are aware of these protections and that they don’t apply automatically – only 3,100 cases were dismissed after tenants completed certification within the first week of December, according to the Courts Administrative Office.

“We find that many tenants are afraid of the potential future consequences if they claim the protections … or retaliation from their landlord,” said Renee Koubiadis, director of the anti-poverty program for New Jersey Citizen Action. “Others say, ‘I’m just going to take it easy,’ then they’re homeless because they don’t feel worthy to stay, somehow it’s their fault even though we are all in the middle of a pandemic. “

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Meanwhile, small landlords struggle to pay their own bills and property taxes as they have lost months, or even more than a year, of rental income. Without the ability to replace the non-paying tenant with someone capable of paying the rent, landlords were left with few options.

Under the new law, rent owed during the pandemic is converted to civil debt, meaning landlords could sue in civil court to recover. But many landlords say the process is too expensive and doesn’t guarantee they’ll get paid because tenants don’t have the money.

The main solution for landlords is state and local rent assistance, but government payments do not cover all of the rent. The state’s main fund was created in the form of a lottery, with applications ending December 15, so not all homeowners will receive help. the the state cut a $ 25 million fund for smallholders by 60%, and applicants rated the program as complicated and cumbersome.

“Some small homeowners have lost their homes, their retirement savings, their children’s college funds and their livelihoods,” said David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association. “This will lead to a reduction in the overall supply of rental housing. And will ultimately exacerbate the current affordable housing crisis we face in this state.”

A handful of small municipal or county funds remain open and can cover future payments, as well as current and past due rents. Undocumented families are eligible.

Tenants who pay the rent for January should be sure to label checks or money transfers with “January 2022” so that there is a paper trail that they are paying the rent after the end of protection against rent. ‘expulsion.

If tenants are worried that they won’t have enough funds to pay the full rent when the moratorium ends in January, they should try to discuss a repayment schedule with their landlords first. They can also seek help through a county or city rental assistance program or by contacting a local nonprofit housing association that may have grants available.

For a list of non-profit housing organizations, click here or visit HousingHelpNJ.org.

Renters should also remember that eviction is a process and tenants cannot be evicted the day after a missed payment.

“Don’t leave your apartment unless there’s a sheriff’s removal warrant on your doorstep,” said Amy Albert, attorney for the Waterfront Project. “The process is slow right now, and many people will not be heard in court for months. If you come home with a locked door, it’s an illegal eviction. Call 911 and then 211 to get one. another place to spend the night, if needed. “

Resources:

Legal assistance

  • New Jersey Legal Services: 1-888-576-5529
  • Seton Hall Legal Center for Social Justice: 973-642-8700.
  • Volunteer Justice Lawyers: 973-645-1955
  • If you have a disability, call Community Health Law Project: 609-392-5553

Low-income families in Atlantic City, East Orange, Trenton or Newark can also get free legal advice and social service assistance by calling:

  • Residents of Trenton: Jersey Central Legal Services at 609-695-6249
  • Atlantic City residents: Atlantic County Jewish Family Service: 609-822-6830
    • Or on the day of your hearing, tune in to Zoom at 8:30 am Monday through Thursday. Meeting number: 161 090 5099; Password: 627612.
  • East Orange residents:
    • Postal code 07017 call Volunteer Lawyers for Justice at 973-943-4754
    • Zip Code 07018, call Essex Newark Legal Services at 973-624-4500
  • Newark residents: Call 973-877-9424 or email [email protected]

Form protecting tenants from eviction for missing payments in pandemic

Visit covid19.nj.gov/forms/renterform. If tenants do not have internet access or need assistance, they can call 609-490-4550 and a representative will help them complete the form over the phone.

For detailed instructions on how to complete the form, click here.

How do I know if the eviction protections apply to me?

It depends on your income, the number of people in your family and the county.

If you earn less than 80% of your county’s median income, landlords cannot apply for a missed rent eviction until December 31, 2021.

If you earn between 80% and 120% of your county’s median income, landlords cannot seek eviction for the rent you missed during the pandemic until August 31, 2021.

See the table below for the income thresholds:

Rental assistance

Visit HousingHelpNJ.org Where tinyurl.com/housingnonprofit or call 211 for a list of local housing resources that can help you with short-term rent payments and other assistance.

Ashley Balcerzak is a reporter who covers affordable housing and how it intersects with the way we live in New Jersey. For unlimited access to his work, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

E-mail: [email protected]

Twitter: @abalcerzak