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December Community Workshop “How to protect yourself as a tenant”

On December 8, POTS’ Legal Team hosted an online community workshop to share updates on housing court and tenant protections. In this opportunity, the workshop focused on the current operations of the court, update on ERAP and tips about pending housing court cases. POTS legal team also dedicated additional time to answer questions from the participants. POTS’ workshop series seek to share with the community a number of programs and protections that were adopted during the pandemic to protect the most vulnerable among us from poverty and homelessness. 

Elizabeth Maris, POTS Supervising Attorney indicates: “New Yorkers continue to experience tremendous challenges in maintaining their financial, physical and mental health as a result of the continuing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.   While tenant protections are lessening with the passage of time since the pandemic’s onset, it remains critically important to assist tenants in accessing resources to help stabilize them in their homes.  These supports are critical for the health and safety of our neighbors and for the larger New York City community.” 

With that goal in mind the most important updates discussed during the workshop include: 

The New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) 

ERAP provides rent and utility assistance to households at risk of homelessness or housing instability, including: 

  • Up to 12 months of rental arrears payments for rents accrued. 
  • Up to 3 months of prospective rental assistance (if the household is expected to spend 30 percent or more of their gross monthly income on rent). 
  • Up to 12 months of electric or gas utility arrears payments. 

As of December 14, 2022, OTDA has approved and paid 215,079 ERAP applications for a total of $2.7 billion.  OTDA has also provisionally approved another 25,957 applications for a total of $325 million. Of the applications that were approved and paid, 37,741 applications were approved for Bronx residents, for a total of $617,148,995.97, or approximately 25% of all approved applications. 

Housing Court Update 

Housing Court is open throughout the 5 boroughs of New York City, including the Bronx. Court operations are now primarily in person, with options for virtual attendance where needed. Tenants may begin cases against their landlords to address housing violations or harassment or for an illegal lockout. Tenants may also file responsive papers to any case filed against them, or may seek information from court personnel or Housing Court Answers. 

Any litigant with a court appearance date should receive a letter with instructions on how to participate.  Any tenant who is not represented by an attorney may request assignment of an attorney in court at no charge to the tenant, which should be provided as long as the tenant is financially eligible for that assistance (with a household income of under 200% of the federal poverty line for the household size) as long as funding and staffing for the program remains sufficient to meet the need for legal services. 

In June 2020, New York State passed legislation to protect tenants who suffered financial hardship during the pandemic from eviction.  Protection from eviction may extend to tenants with rent arrears accruing between March 7, 2020 and January 15, 2022.  Any tenant potentially entitled to that protection should make sure they have legal counsel so that they can assert this fundamental defense to eviction. 

More tips for the community 

”We recommend that tenants with rent arrears apply for the ERAP program, for as long as the ERAP program remains open” -said Arturo Ureña, POTS’ Legal Clinic Coordinator –  “Applying for ERAP entitles the tenant to a stay of any eviction proceeding and may lead to the award of rental and utility assistance to the tenant if sufficient funds are allocated to the program”.  

“We understand that these are challenging times, and housing insecurity can be a significant source of stress and frustration. Though there can be long wait times for assistance, keep going! Help is available to ensure you receive the council and advocacy that meets your needs. We hope POTS can be part of the solution to your housing troubles.” – Freddy Espitia, Legal Advocate. 

Tenants should also take advantage of New York City’s Universal Access to Legal Services program. The Universal Access to Legal Services program provides free housing attorneys to NYC tenants at risk for eviction. Tenants can request access to this program by calling (718) 557-1379, (212) 962-4795 or 311.