Senators Brian Stack and Ron Rice | May 18, 2021 | Star-Ledger |
The global pandemic has reshaped life as we know it. New Jersey families, especially those who are renting, are experiencing both financial and health-related challenges that were inconceivable before last year. As legislators representing towns with high population densities and a significant number of rental units, we are keenly aware of the hurdles facing our constituents. As if making ends meet wasn’t difficult enough, a potential eviction tsunami is on the horizon unless something is done to prevent it.
At the same time, landlords are also facing challenges. The lack of rent revenue can lead to bankruptcies and foreclosures and further down the line it could lead to costly tax appeals, which could hurt towns and impact municipal budgets. That is why we introduced S-3691, legislation that addresses the impending wave of evictions by preventing evictions for unpaid rent during the pandemic. It would provide an additional $750 million in rental assistance, credit protections and protection against a tenant being penalized by future landlords because of an eviction during the pandemic. Finally, the bill provides a date certain as to when the eviction moratorium will end, but only after these tenant protections and this assistance are in place.
Before explaining the details of the bill, we must first recognize the unfortunate reality that a government-mandated eviction moratorium cannot last forever. In fact, many in the legal community believe that with every pandemic-related reduction or elimination of restrictions on businesses and individuals, the legal authority justifying the eviction moratorium erodes. Rather than simply sticking our heads in the sand, we must take steps to mitigate the impacts of an end to the moratorium.
The solution is to buttress the $700 million in federal rental assistance funds received with additional cash. The federal money is now being distributed through the COVID Emergency Rental Assistance Program (CVERAP II). While much of this assistance will go toward helping tenants repay rental arrearages that accrued during the pandemic, we must also help tenants who cannot afford their rent going forward. That is why our bill appropriates $750 million to fund an enhanced, “Eviction and Homelessness Prevention Program,” which is targeted toward low- and moderate-income tenants. Again, this is separate and distinct from the $700 million in rental assistance we received from the federal government.
Second, our bill ensures that no tenant will be evicted for debt accrued during the pandemic. We do this by converting the rental debt into civil debt, which means that while a landlord can get a money judgment for what is owed, they cannot evict any tenant for debt accrued between March 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021. The bill also gives low- and moderate-income tenants an extra month of eviction protection if they pay 50% or 75% of their rent, respectively, for the month of August.
Third, the bill helps protect tenants’ credit by prohibiting landlords from disseminating any negative information to credit reporting agencies or other landlords for debt accrued during that 17-month period, and the bill also prevents current and future landlords from considering any eviction records that were related to any debt accrued during that same period.
Lastly, the bill attempts to provide some level of certainty to both tenants and landlords regarding the end of the eviction moratorium. It does so by extending New Jersey’s eviction moratorium to July 31, 2021, a full month beyond the end of the CDC eviction moratorium on June 30. Again, this was only done with the understanding that additional tenant protections are put in place, that any debt accrued during the pandemic could not trigger an eviction, and that the creation of the enhanced “Homelessness Prevention Program” would assist those households who are still struggling to make ends meet.
As legislators elected by our constituents, we have an obligation to serve the people of New Jersey to the best of our ability. Helping tenants has been a passion for both of us for our entire careers in elected office. S-3691 is a pragmatic, multifaceted approach toward addressing a myriad of problems resulting from the global pandemic. It is our hope that this bill, coupled with the federal rental assistance, will not only pull us out of the pandemic without displacing tenants, but it will be a lasting solution that helps save families from homelessness for years to come.
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