This article is adapted from our Rent Update newsletter sent March 7, 2022. You can sign up here to get it or fill out the form at the bottom of this post.
If you’re reading this, you might be or know one of the 315,162 people who, as of March 1, have applied to get back rent paid by the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).
And you may know that there’s not nearly enough money to go around.
With current funding, there’s enough to cover just 165,000 applications to the program, according to recent analysis by the New York Housing Conference.
Will the state allocate more money to fund the program? We’ll know soon — because the state budget is due March 31. Gov. Kathy Hochul dangled a $2 billion discretionary fund that could be spent on ERAP, but the legislature has yet to hammer it out.
Meanwhile, many who’ve applied for rent help still don’t know their fate or are having ongoing problems with landlords. Several readers wrote us with questions about what to do next. Here’s what we found out.
(And heads up: We’re hosting an Open Newsroom event on March 21 to take more of your queries. Scroll down for more info on that.)
A Rent Bump After ERAP?
Natalia in Manhattan said she got confirmation that her building’s owner received ERAP for what she owed. But her landlord then tried to raise the rent going forward from $1,800 to $2,500. “The law clearly states that they cannot evict me nor raise my rent for at least a year from the disbursement date,” she wrote. What should she do now?
Answer: Natalia is right about the law, and she doesn’t have to accept a rent increase for a year.
We asked Nakeeb Siddique, director of housing for the Legal Aid Society in Brooklyn, about her situation and he said his office would advise Natalia to remind her landlord or managing agent that “the ERAP law and the agreement the landlord made to obtain the ERAP funds to pay pandemic rent arrears clearly says that the rent remains the same for one year after the ERAP approval.”
That means Natalia does not need to sign a lease for a higher rent, Siddique said, and “doesn’t need to pay a higher rent for the year after the ERAP approval.”
If you get a rent demand like this, or even court papers, call 311 and ask to be connected to free legal services through the city’s relatively new “Right to Counsel” law. (More on that here.)
In the meantime, Siddique advises that “folks should keep paying the same monthly rent amount each month.”
Landlord Says: You Still Owe
Marie from Crown Heights wrote that the state notified her in October that she was approved through ERAP for rent arrears owed through December 2021. In January of this year, however, she got a call from her landlord who said she still owed three months of rent. Then she received legal papers demanding she show up in Housing Court.
She says she told her landlord company they were wrong, and that she no longer owed them. Then they said she owed only two months of rent, then one month — then switched it back to five months.
For now, the landlord company has dropped the threat of a court case, but she told THE CITY she’s still worried about how to resolve it, and said there must be lots of other renters dealing with the same issues.
What should a tenant like her do when a landlord who got paid through ERAP claims a tenant still owes them?
Answer: Get your documents in order and make sure you know how to get legal help.
Every case is different, and there may be a reason why your landlord thinks you owe them money, even after they get cash from ERAP. You could owe money from before the pandemic began, or it could be that ERAP didn’t cover 100% of your arrears.
To get more information, ask your landlord for a “zero-balance rent ledger,” said Justin La Mort, supervising attorney at the nonprofit Mobilization for Justice. The ledger should show “a rent bill that goes back to when you owed $0.”
Then gather all of your documents — copies of checks written, receipts for money orders, etc..
Your landlord could be trying to shake you down for more money you don’t actually owe, which La Mort has certainly seen happen, but it’s also likely that bad accounting is the culprit.
“The amount of mistakes that are on rent ledgers are just shockingly common,” he said.
If you need help digging through the records, reach out to constituent services at your local Council member or state representative’s offices, a local tenant union, or social services organizations with experience sorting out housing issues, like the Met Council on Housing. Or, if you’ve hit a wall and think you may end up in housing court, get in touch with legal services by calling 311 and asking for “Right to Counsel.”
Leah Goodridge, managing attorney for housing policy with Mobilization For Justice, said the ERAP system is particularly cloudy when it comes to getting information about when a landlord got a payment, and for how much. Half of her job, she said, “is dealing with government agency maze.”
“It’s wading and navigating through in order to get the client answers, and money, and to be able to accurately come to court and say, ‘She doesn’t owe this money.’ ‘This was paid on this date, and the landlord cashed the check on this date.’ But it’s really hard for a tenant to do that by themselves. Very difficult,” she said.
Where did the most people apply for ERAP?
The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which oversees the administration of ERAP, publishes data on how many people applied, and from where. They updated that data on March 1. We mapped where the most people applied compared to the population in each area.
Now, for a status update.
How many people are still waiting on ERAP? And how long is the backlog of applications, exactly?
Right now, more than 127,000 payments for individual applicants have been made to landlords through ERAP. Those rent payments are worth about $1.6 billion, according to the OTDA.
But with more than 300,000 applications to the program, there’s still a long way to go.
As we said at the start, there isn’t enough funding available right now to pay for all of those applicants. For example, last month, OTDA acting commissioner said no funding has gone to public housing applicants, and they may never receive aid.
Putting in more cash is what Albany lawmakers are debating now — and what many advocates are lobbying the federal government to help with, too.
And even applicants who were already preliminarily approved for back rent payments last summer, when the program began, are still waiting.
There are many reasons for why it’s all taking so long. Among them: the process for correctly matching up tenants who need rent with the landlord who should get paid by the state has been … rocky.
Why is it so hard? Sometimes tenants list the managing agent on the paperwork, not the owner of the property, who could accept rent payments from the state, said Jay Martin, executive director of the Community Housing Improvement Program, an organization representing landlords in New York.
Other times, the address on an application doesn’t match an owner’s business address. Or the correct name of the landlord is hard to find because it’s hidden behind a limited liability company, or LLC.
“You have to then go through all the pending applications to match up any corroborating information to match up the tenant side with the owner side,” he said.
Currently, there are 17,500 cases that are still pending because of the tenant-landlord matching issue, all from last June, July, August or September, OTDA said.
CHIP has been working with OTDA directly to try to iron out problems with individual owners. But despite the attention and effort from OTDA staff, it’s going at a snail’s pace.
Martin said he was recently helping one owner with just 38 applications from tenants, and it took two or three days to untangle the paperwork and get payments sent out.
Multiply that by the mountain of applications left to handle and it becomes clear how far there is to go.
“As you can imagine, with thousands and thousands of applicants, it’s just been — it’s been a nightmare,” he said.
A consulting company, Guidehouse, was also hired by OTDA to process applications last year in a controversial no-bid contract paid through federal emergency funds allocated to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Anthony Farmer, a spokesperson for OTDA, said the agency “continues to work with Guidehouse, community-based organizations and landlord associations to ensure all applications are completed in their entirety.”
For provisionally approved tenants, “outreach efforts to property owners will continue to secure payment,” he said. In the meantime, a payment letter will be generated “for the tenant to use in court if the landlord tries to evict.” Funds are then set aside for 180 days, according to the state law that created the program.
More Questions? Join us.
On March 21 at 6:30 p.m., THE CITY will host a virtual Open Newsroom event to address the current rent crisis in New York. We’ll talk about the eviction moratorium ending, the ERAP backlog, rent hikes and more — with expert guests to answer your questions.
As we plan for that day, we want to hear from you. What can we help you understand about rent and where you live?
What we’re reading:
- NY1 took a long look at why homeless people with poor mental health return to the streets again and again. One big culprit: The city’s psychiatric beds have been disappearing for years, and the pandemic made it worse.
- A bipartisan group of City Council members are asking the mayor to give homeowners a tax rebate of at least $400 a year as property taxes surge, the New York Post reported.
- Retired city workers won a court battle over Medicare coverage. New York Focus broke down what that means, especially for lower-income retirees.
- The Real Deal reported that eviction cases are overwhelming the city’s legal services organizations, six weeks after the state’s eviction moratorium ended.
- THE CITY reported on Manhattan’s back-to-work moment, even as the city’s unemployment rate remains more than double the national average.