Trying to prevent evictions in New Jersey

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New Jersey lawmakers are pushing to prevent an expected flood of evictions and foreclosures for rent or mortgage default during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The evictions were legally suspended by an order in council from Governor Phil Murphy. But that protection expires two months after the end of the public health emergency he declared to deal with the pandemic. This health emergency will end soon after Murphy and the main Democrats in the legislatures passed a bill Thursday at the end almost all the decrees he issued during the pandemic.

The legislation was passed by both chambers in a party-divided vote after a heated debate. In the Senate, lawmakers have at times struggled to agree to the loud chants of protesters and police sirens outside State House. In a statement after the vote, Murphy said he plans to sign the bill on Friday as well as issue an executive order repealing the order declaring a public health emergency.

Meanwhile, an assembly committee this week approved a bill to provide mortgage relief to residential property owners. A previous similar bill was blocked in the Senate, but another measure to address the issue of deportations was introduced by Senator Brian Stack (D-Union).

The housing committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill (A-5684) that would grant at least six months mortgage forbearance to any homeowner who suffered financial hardship during the pandemic, has gross household income ne not exceeding 150% of the median income area and has less than six months of cash reserves in his bank account.

Prevent eviction for non-payment

Another bill (A-5685) would prevent tenants from low- to middle-income households from being evicted for non-payment or customary late payment of rent between March 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021. Rent arrears during this period would be treated as a civil debt which could be sued by a landlord.

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The new measures effectively replace an earlier bill, also known as the People’s Bill, which would have codified Murphy’s ban and given tenants up to 2.5 years to pay off rent arrears accumulated during the pandemic. The measure was fiercely opposed by landlords, who said their finances had already been strained by being unable to evict non-paying tenants during COVID-19, and that they should not be required to fund a extended repayment period.

The new bills contain provisions that recognize the needs of tenants and landlords. It is noted that thousands of tenants have not been able to pay all or part of their rent during the pandemic, and that it will be “extremely difficult” to make future payments once rent demands resume.

Black and brown communities have been particularly hard hit by the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic, the bill says, and face eviction for non-payment or partial payment of rent when the moratorium ends.

He warns that a flood of evictions and the overcrowding of housing that would accompany it could lead to a resurgence of COVID-19 infections.

Help for owners

But the bill also recognizes that landlords have absorbed the burden of housing more than a million tenants during the pandemic while receiving “little or no” financial assistance from state or federal governments.

“It is unfair to require private sector owners to provide such housing without compensation or assistance, while forcing them to continue to maintain these properties and pay their financial obligations, including state and local taxes,” indicates the bill, sponsored in the Senate by Sens. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), Ronald Rice (D-Essex) and Mr. Theresa Ruiz (D-Essex).

David Brogan, executive director of the New Jersey Apartment Association, which primarily represents large landlords, said the bill would help homeowners recover from an estimated 15% to 30% drop in rental income during the pandemic, although they are unlikely to be complete.

He praised the bill but said it would not help fix homeowners’ finances until the Murphy’s moratorium was lifted – an event that would be postponed to year-end under the bill on decrees that the legislature voted on Thursday.

“If we are going to extend the moratorium on evictions until January 1 and not provide meaningful help to landlords, you are going to see tenants running up more and more debt and small landlords going bankrupt by the hundreds, if not thousands.” , did he declare.

Where is the money that was sent to the NJ?

Brogan said nearly $ 600 million in federal rent assistance was sent to New Jersey state, county and municipal agencies in December, but very little of that money went to landlords. At the state level, the Department of Community Affairs is responsible for the distribution of funds.

Housing advocates have said they are generally happy with the provisions of the new bills and hope they will soon become law, unlike the People’s Bill.

The overall goal of the new bills is “to prevent people from ending up on the streets,” said Adam Tucker, spokesperson for New Jersey Citizen Action, a grassroots group that works for social, racial and justice. economic. While the group would have liked to see more protections passed in the People’s Bill, this measure appears to have no future in the Legislature, and the new bills therefore address many of the group’s concerns, Tucker said. .

“It’s a practical consideration – these have a chance to pass, versus the people’s bill, and they cover a lot but not all,” he said.

Tucker’s group calls for amendments to new bills that would include measures to prevent debt assignment to third parties; to protect tenants’ credit against the negative effects of an eviction request and to extend mortgage forbearance by two years.

Courts have registered thousands of deportation requests

Housing advocates previously predicted a ‘tsunami’ of evictions when the governor’s moratorium ended two months after the public health emergency declared an end, a point that appears to be approaching as COVID-19 infections are declining and vaccination rates are increasing in the state.

Although the eviction order prevented the courts from acting on homeowners’ eviction requests during the pandemic, they continued to take cases to court, and housing advocates predicted there would be a flood of evictions ordered by the courts for non-payment of rent as soon as the order is lifted. The judicial system reports that 58,135 deportation requests were filed between May 2020 and the end of April 2021.

At the Housing Committee hearing, housing advocates voted in favor of A-5684. “It will help a lot of homeowners in our state move forward, especially our low income homeowners,” said Drew Curtis of the Ironbound Community Corporation in Newark.

But he called for amendments, including the application of the bill to all banks; extend homeowner protections to at least two years and ensure small homeowners are covered as well.

MP Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex) said she would push for these amendments as well as protections for people who suffered a tax lien sale during the pandemic.

Timberlake, the main sponsor of the People’s Bill, said she wanted Bill A-5684 to prevent an increase in foreclosures. “We have to make sure that we do not exacerbate the problem of loss of wealth,” she said.

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