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Tenants can use NY emergency rental assistance applications as a defense against eviction

Members of the Ithaca Tenants’ Union demonstrate against evictions outside the city court in December 2021
Jillian Forstadt
Members of the Ithaca Tenants’ Union demonstrate against evictions outside the city court in December 2021

New York’s eviction moratorium expired last weekend, but tenants who applied for rent relief through the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program cannot be legally evicted, even if their application is still being processed.

That goes for anyone who has been behind on rent since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, according to the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

The state reopened applications for its emergency rental assistance program after a court order earlier this month. It had closed to most applicants in November, aside from those in a small number of counties, due to limited funds.

Now that it is open again, Liddy Bargar, director of housing initiatives at the Human Services Coalition of Tompkins County, has been working to get the word out to tenants who have not yet applied and are at risk of eviction.

“Even though the funding is on pause, the legal protections remain for folks,” Bargar said. “If they do have arrears and anticipate eviction proceedings, now is the time to fill out an application.”

If a landlord has started an eviction proceeding, tenants could show their approved or pending rental assistance application to the court in defense. That includes cases in which the landlord has refused to accept rental assistance funds.

New applicants, however, may not see monetary aid anytime soon. Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul said the $2 billion rent relief fund had run out. New applications will only be considered if more money becomes available.

Hochul wrote a letter with governors from New Jersey, California and Illinois asking the federal government to replenish their rental assistance allotments. More than 85,000 applications in New York remain unfunded as of Jan. 13.

Interim steps

Prior to the moratorium’s end, housing advocates worried that hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers would be evicted and end up on the street. Nationally, however, eviction filings stayed below pre-pandemic levels as federal and state eviction moratoria ended.

Plus, Bargar said most people don’t end up on the street or in shelters directly after eviction.

“There’s usually an interim step of couchsurfing or [being] doubled up,” Bargar explained. “Or you hang on for another period of time and some horrible housing situation.”

Living with others in congregate settings like shelters, however, can increase potential exposure to COVID-19. The eviction moratorium was originally put in place at the start of the pandemic as a public health measure to limit the spread of the virus.

Bargar said renters who had their emergency rental assistance application denied should reach out to the Human Services Coalition through the 211 hotline for help appealing the state’s decision.

“Whether or not we helped with their initial application, 211 can help with appeals for folks that were denied, and have had a pretty good success rate with those appeals,” she added.

The state had paid the rental arrears of roughly 300 households in Tompkins County as of Jan. 10, worth nearly $1.4 million. Landlords in Broome County have received the most payments on behalf of renters of any county in the Southern Tier, with close to 900 payments and $4.3 million in awards.

Tenants can apply through the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance here.