State has 3 days to reopen rent relief portal: judge

Renters get chance to secure eviction protection before ban lapses

New York /
Jan.January 06, 2022 05:25 PM

Gov. Kathy Hochul, Judge Lynn R. Kotler, OTDA Executive Deputy Commissioner Barbara C. Guinn (Getty Images, OTDA, Touro Law Center’s Office of Development, Alumni Relations)

For tenants at risk of eviction, a judge’s order will offer protection days before the state moratorium is set to expire.

Judge Lynn R. Kotler ruled Thursday that the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which headed the emergency rent relief program, must reopen the portal to tenant applications within three business days.

Kotler noted that applying insulates tenants from eviction while their paperwork is being processed. Just nine days remain on the statewide eviction ban.

The judge wrote that if OTDA were not forced to accept applications, tenants “may be evicted and the [rent relief] program will be of no use to them after that point.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul closed the portal to most tenants late last year, saying the program had exhausted a large majority of its funding. Tenant advocates and landlord groups alike condemned the decision and pushed for the program’s reopening. Among other reasons, they cited the need to track arrears so the state could request sufficient funding from Washington.

In mid-December, The Legal Aid Society brought a suit against OTDA, arguing that the agency’s decision to stop accepting applications before all funds were exhausted exceeded its lawful authority.

“It is now abundantly clear that the Hochul Administration violated the law when it prematurely closed the ERAP portal,” said Ed Josephson, supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society.

“We laud this decision, which acknowledges the Legislature’s clearly expressed intent to protect families from being evicted while they are waiting for federal funds to be fully distributed,” he said.

Hochul had requested an additional $996 million in federal dollars to replenish the relief pool when she made the call to shutter the portal in November. Last week, the U.S. Department of the Treasury told New York it would receive just $27 million, Law360 reported Tuesday.

The same day, landlord groups called on the governor and state legislature to commit $2 billion more to the relief program to cover the program’s 126,000 pending applications and the 175,000 renters they estimate are eligible for the program but not aware of it.

“The data clearly shows that the size of the problem is at least $2 billion,” said Jay Martin, executive director of landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program. “If the government does not fund the program fully, renters are going to suffer.”

The Rent Stabilization Association blasted Kotler’s order to reopen the relief portal, arguing the act would shield nonpaying tenants from eviction without any guarantee that rent aid will materialize.

“Reopening the ERAP portal without sufficient funds or the possibility of obtaining a sufficient allocation provides tenant protections without rent payments for building owners who, as always, have enormous costs that remain in place,” said Joseph Strasburg, president of the Rent Stabilization Association.

“ERAP without money isn’t ERAP because it doesn’t pay the rent,” he added.

The injunction noted that $18 billion in federal funding for the nationwide program remains unspent and may be redistributed in March — a reason for the state to reopen the application portal.

“[OTDA] will know what funds are available by April, which is not in the distant future,” the judge wrote.

This story has been updated with comments from the Rent Stabilization Association and The Legal Aid Society.





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