Landlords and tenants awaiting the launch of New York’s rent relief program Tuesday morning were met with error messages and a busy helpline.
Lisa Fitzgerald, the owner of a two-family home in Albany who’s seeking $15,000 in back rent, was ready to submit her application materials at 9 a.m. when the portal, operated by the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, opened. She was prompted to set up an account, but got a 403 error message when she tried to do so.
“I tried over and over,” Fitzgerald said. “I switched from Safari to Chrome. I cleared my browser. And then I tried the help chat, and nobody ever came on to the chat.”
She then tried giving the call center a ring, but was disconnected. She called back and a recording told her it’d be a 62-minute wait.
Fitzgerald is one of many who’d hoped to apply for the state’s long-awaited rent relief program, but hit technical issues on the day it launched.
Portal users complained of error messages when attempting to verify their email or upload required documents. Some landlords have said they’re unable to verify whether documents are uploaded for the correct apartment.
Others can’t make it past the apply now button, receiving a “request is blocked” notification.
New York is one of the last states to roll out this most recent round of rent relief, funded in part by federal dollars. State lawmakers approved the $2.4 billion program in early April as a part of New York’s budget for fiscal year 2022. The program allots federal funds to the landlords of tenants who have experienced financial hardship during the pandemic.
“The Emergency Rental Assistance Program is supposed to bring hope to tens of thousands of struggling families,” said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program. “Instead it is reinforcing the fears of many renters and small property owners that applying for the funds is just not worth their time.”
Tweets from the OTDA advise applicants to email the agency’s public information office or clear their browser’s history. The office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Fitzgerald finally made it past an error message to set up her landlord account around noon, three hours after she started.
“But my mother has a 12:30 doctor’s appointment so I had to run out,” she said. “Hopefully when I get back I’ll actually be able to apply for funds.”