Legal Aid Society suit asks NY to reopen rent relief portal

Housing groups argue for application process’s tenant protections

Legal Aid Society CEO Janet Sabel and Gov. Kathy Hochul (Legal Aid, Getty)
Legal Aid Society CEO Janet Sabel and Gov. Kathy Hochul (Legal Aid, Getty)

Local tenant and housing groups are pursuing legal action to reopen New York’s rent relief portal, which they say protects renters from eviction.

The New York Times reported the Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs in hopes of restarting applications and extending protection to those behind on rent who have not applied for relief.

“It’s an easy thing for them to do, at no cost to themselves, and will help a lot of people,” Edward Josephson, supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Society, told the Times. The portal closed just over a month ago.

At the heart of the move is a protection embedded into New York’s rent relief program that says tenants cannot be evicted if an application for rent relief from the state is pending. Advocates charge the portal’s closure has eliminated a key way for tenants who are behind on rent to avoid evictions when the state eviction moratorium expires on Jan. 15.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Administration announced more than $250 million in pending rent relief could be redistributed if landlords fail to claim approved funds. According to City Limits, 20,000 tenant applications submitted and approved between June and August haven’t been matched to a landlord, and the agency this week set a 180-day deadline to claim the checks.

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New York’s portal for emergency rental assistance stopped accepting applications in mid-November, when Gov. Kathy Hochul said virtually all of the $2.4 billion in available funding was earmarked. Hochul has requested another $996 million from the Treasury Department; a decision is still pending on the funding.

According to the Times, there are about 120,000 rent relief applications pending that wouldn’t be able to be paid out if approved unless more funding comes through.

Help could soon come through a reallocation of rent relief by the Treasury Department, which is the Wall Street Journal reported last month is looking to shift unused funds away from some municipalities and towards those running low on resources. The plan was expected to be unveiled in early December, but no action has been announced yet.

[NYT] — Holden Walter-Warner

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