As COVID-19 cases have gone down causing the re-opening of businesses, universities and restaurants, the world is finally starting to feel a sense of normalcy. During COVID-19, Governor Murphy passed a moratorium on evictions, barring all landlords from filing for eviction with the Superior Court which posed as a significant relief for many tenants affected by the pandemic from losing their homes. Because of the unpredictability of the pandemic, state officials passed the moratorium offering assistance for landlords and tenants, preventing a mass flood of eviction cases in the courts.
However, the moratorium is now coming to an end. Assuming rent was not paid during the COVID Period (anything between March 2020- August 31, 2021), many tenants now fear evictions and lawsuits. The modified or new moratorium attempts to strike a balance seeking to protect the rights of both the landlord and the tenant.
As such, many landlords and tenants are unsure of where to go from here. What do they file? When does the moratorium officially end? Who is still protected? What changes or amendments have been passed to the new moratorium?
Well, the answer isn’t simple.
According to the new moratorium standards recently passed, tenants cannot be evicted for any rent owed between the COVID period (March 2020-August 2021) but can be evicted only for rent owed before the COVID period began (anything before March 2020).
Any rent that is owed during the COVID period shall not be a basis for an eviction, but may remain as a basis for a money judgment by a landlord against a tenant. This means that a landlord cannot evict or remove someone from their apartment for non-payment of rent during the COVID period (March 2020-August 2021), but it does allow the landlord to have a claim against you for a money judgment for all of the rent that you do owe. Stated a different way, you still owe the rent money during the COVID period, but the landlord cannot throw you out of the apartment for not paying it – he or she can simply sue you for it.
However, you should note that the end of the applicable COVID period shall vary based on certain factors. According to the new bills S3691 and A4463 passed and signed into law by Governor Murphy, the moratorium end date differs depending on what economic status you might belong to in your county. This includes:
- Tenants who may be considered low income will have the COVID period extended and shall be shielded from eviction through December 31, 2021.
- Those that may be considered median income households, will be shielded from eviction until November 15, 2021.
- Those above the 80% of median income in their county saw the moratorium and the COVID period come to an end on August 31, 2021.
So, if you are a tenant, and your COVID period/moratorium has expired, is there anything that you can do to stay in your rental? The answer depends on your income level as there are a couple of additional factors that may allow you to stay on the property past the COVID period expiration.
Again, based on your economic status, the new law allows for partial rent payments to be sufficient to stop an eviction. For example, if a tenant of a very low income or low-income household can agree to pay 50 % of rent due for the month, the tenant can remain at the property, but the remaining money owed will be considered “civil debt” and not a basis for eviction. In this instance, “civil debt” means that the landlord still has a right to his or her money and may sue you for it, but cannot use it to remove you from your home. If a tenant is under moderate income and can agree to pay 75% of the rent for the month, the tenant can remain, but the remaining 25% will be considered civil debt. It is important to note that under the new provisions, and under both circumstances tenants cannot be evicted for the 50% or the 25% of unpaid rent, but can be sued for it as the landlord still has a right to payment.
So, now that you know the criteria for what does and does not qualify to allow for evictions, you have to know what to do to make sure that you can demonstrate that you qualify. There are two (2) things that you must do:
- Step 1: First, you should apply for rental assistance. Even if you get rejected, you should still apply so that you can demonstrate that there is no other source for which you can have the rent paid. The NJ Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is administering such rental assistance programs through their site, and it is important that you submit your online application. See, https://njdca.onlinepha.com.
- Step 2: You need to complete the self-certification (See, https://covid19.nj.gov/renter) which will help you determine whether you are eligible for eviction protection based on your household income, as set forth above. After you complete the questions required for the certification you will know whether you qualify for the moratorium and what your deadline or COVID period shall be. After completing the Certification, you cannot be evicted during the applicable COVID period. It is important that you complete both of these steps to ensure that you cannot be evicted if you qualify for the moratorium during a COVID period.
In conclusion, the new moratorium has many new provisions and amendments put in place by our state legislature to balance the interests of both landlords and tenants. If you wish to learn more about the new moratorium or have additional questions about the contents of this blog as well as any of our other services, please contact Abdou Law Offices, LLC at (732) 540-8840.