On February 2022, 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 after the expiration of New York State’s eviction moratorium and tips about pending housing court cases. 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: “Despite the tremendous losses and challenges that have arisen during the COVID-19 pandemic, many changes have been made to increase the opportunities for tenants to remain in their homes. Loss of housing impacts individuals, families, and communities, and it is essential that all those in need seek and obtain assistance to help prevent disruptions to their own lives and that of their communities”.
With that goal in mind the most important updates discussed during the workshop include:
The New York State Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP)
ERAP was adopted to provide rent and utility assistance to households at risk of homelessness or housing instability . The program can provide:
- Up to 12 months of rental arrears payments for rents accrued on or after March 13, 2020.
- Up to 3 months of additional rental assistance if the household is expected to spend 30 percent or more of their gross monthly income to pay for rent.
- Up to 12 months of electric or gas utility arrears payments for arrears that have accrued on or after March 13, 2020.
As of April 26, 2022, OTDA has approved and paid 146,545 ERAP applications for a total of $1.84 billion. OTDA has also provisionally approved another 24,769 applications for a total of $311 million. Of the applications that were approved and paid, 37,171 applications were approved for Bronx residents, for a total of $430,738,678, or 25% of all approved applications.
An additional $800 million was allocated for rental assistance and $250 million to utility assistance under ERAP in New York State’s FY 2023 budget. OTDA continues to process and approve ERAP applications at this time.
Housing Court Update
Housing Court is open throughout the 5 boroughs of New York, including in the Bronx. During the pandemic, most court operations have been virtual but in-person appearances are increasing. Litigants who wish to appear in person may do so, either at the assigned courtroom or through a kiosk that will allow for virtual participation. 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” -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”.
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.