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The State’s Distributed Nearly $100 million in Rent Relief So Far. Have You Applied?

Tenant-rights advocates march through the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn to demand the moratorium on evictions be continued, March 1, 2021.
Tenant-rights advocates march through the Fulton Mall in Brooklyn, March 1, 2021.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This article is adapted from our Rent Update newsletter. You can sign up here to get it or fill out the form at the bottom of this post.


As you might have already heard, the state’s federally funded $2.7 billion rent relief program hasn’t gotten cash out yet to all tenants or landlords who need it. The State Assembly held a hearing Tuesday to hash out what’s been going wrong and how to make the system better.

Here are a few things you need to know:

Some breathing space for renters: Even though New York State’s residential eviction moratorium is set to expire Aug. 31, the federal government has extended the Centers for Disease Control moratorium until Oct. 3 for communities throughout the country that have been severely impacted by COVID. That includes all of New York City. The CDC ban doesn’t stop eviction papers from being filed, but it does prevent people from being removed from their homes.

Meanwhile, the U.S Supreme Court on Thursday blocked part of New York’s moratorium — nixing the provision allowing tenants to self-certify that they’ve suffered economic hardship due to the pandemic, leaving landlords unable to challenge such claims. The New York Times noted that challenges to the CDC moratorium could soon reach the high court.

More tenant protections: If you have applied for New York’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, you are protected from eviction at least until you hear back on whether you qualify to have your rent debt paid. If you do qualify for rent relief, you are protected from eviction for a year, even if your landlord chooses not to participate or accept the funds.

Yes, you read that right. It’s a built-in protection of the rent relief program. If you qualify for ERAP, your landlord can’t evict you for a year, even if they refuse to participate.

There’s a catch: The state agency administering the program, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, or OTDA, is not currently sharing data with the courts about who applied for the program. So the courts have no way of seeing who applied or qualified. That means it falls on the tenant to show the court that they applied and qualified — so keep any documentation from ERAP in case you need to show it in Housing Court. Michael Hein, the commissioner of OTDA, said during Tuesday’s state hearing that his agency is working on an agreement with New York City Housing Courts to share that data, but a deal is not in place yet.

Important: It’s not too late to apply for rent relief in New York. You can do so here. Remember, you don’t need to be a citizen to qualify for ERAP, and you can apply even if you don’t have a Social Security number.

So what’s going on with the rent relief program anyway? Have they gotten more of the money out yet?

Yes, money is starting to move a little quicker.

As of Aug. 9, the state had distributed about $98.6 million to landlords of tenants in more than 7,000 households with tenants who fell behind on rent during the pandemic. Less than $1 million had gone out in the first two months of the program. Still, the nearly $100 million distributed so far is less than 4% of the $2.7 billion available for tenants in need.

Some tenants, landlords, lawyers and advocates have told us that the state’s application website still has glitches. Tenants and landlords are getting notices from the state saying they owe documents that they’ve already submitted — and a lot of people who applied still haven’t received payments, we hear.

With criticism coming from all sides, state lawmakers are meeting this week and next week to figure out how to improve the system.

What are the biggest concerns right now?

Jordan Dewbre, an attorney at BronxWorks who is helping people apply and training other nonprofit workers to assist applicants, said he’s worried that tenants most at risk of losing their homes may be discouraged by the application complications. They may not have the time or access to try their application multiple times if the site crashes, he noted.

“One common thing that I hear is: ‘Wow, this is a lot of work. I had no idea it would be this difficult,’” Dewbre said. “If there’s an application that’s so difficult that folks are having to do it multiple times and potentially giving up, those might be the folks who need it the most.”

As of the end of July, 114,245 New York City households had applied for ERAP, with 35,490 applications from The Bronx; 34,517 from Brooklyn; 18,619 from Manhattan; 22,661 from Queens and 2,958 from Staten Island.

Since the application is only online, organizations like Project Hospitality in Staten Island have created their own paper versions in multiple languages to make sure people have all their answers ready to go before they try the online portal. That way, if the system crashes, they have everything in front of them ready to try again.

What has changed about the rent relief program since it launched in June?

The amount of documentation required to apply for ERAP has gotten slightly smaller. Tenants applying for the program now only need to provide photo identification for themselves. Before, the tenant needed to provide identification for every member of their household. Also, landlords no longer need to send a copy of their deed.

You can see what documents are still required here.

Has anything else changed to fix the issues?

Yes. It is now finally possible to save an application and return to it later, Hein said during the state hearing on Tuesday. The lack of this function had been one of the biggest complaints: If the site crashed midway through an application, the applicant needed to start the process all over. If you’re still having trouble with this, let us know by emailing opennewsroom@thecity.nyc.

Meanwhile, the state has hired many more people to help review applications and answer phone lines. More than 1,000 people are now working on rent relief.

This means the wait time when you call the state’s helpline should be shorter, and applications should start getting approved faster.

One catch: A bunch of applications are being held up because landlords haven’t completed their portion of the paperwork. More than 31,000 applications are awaiting landlord participation, Hein said.

Here’s a tip: If you have a decent relationship with your landlord, let them know when you apply for rent relief so they can look out for word from the state about their portion of the application. We know it’s not always possible because some relationships are tense or some landlords are hard to contact. But the more tenants and landlords can cooperate on the extensive application, the smoother it will go.

Remember: If your landlord refuses to complete the application or submit necessary documents, you can’t be evicted while your application is being processed. You can still qualify on your own and you will be protected from eviction for a year if you do qualify.

Justin Mason, an OTDA spokesperson, said in a statement: “While we will continue to take steps to ease and expedite this process, tenants who apply for rental assistance should rest assured knowing that by law they cannot be evicted from their homes while their application is processed — regardless of whether the state eviction moratorium expires at the end of the month.”

If you are denied rent relief, you can appeal

If you are denied rent relief, you can learn more about how to appeal that decision here. At first there was no way to appeal. Now you can.

What’s still tripping people up with the application process? What should I be aware of?

Both tenants and landlords have been getting notices from the state saying they need to submit more documents. Sometimes, there was an issue with a document, such as the ID photo being too blurry. But we’ve heard from lawyers assisting applicants that a lot of times there isn’t actually a problem and the notices were sent out erroneously.

Here’s a tip: Make sure you’re checking the email address that you applied with regularly, because you may get a notice from the state saying you need more documents. It could be a glitch, but it also could be that you forgot a document or that a photo you submitted was hard to make out.

Justin La Mort, a tenant attorney at Mobilization for Justice, recommended that any time you get a notice from the state about your application, you should call the helpline to make sure everything is OK.

The number for the state rent relief helpline is: 844-NY1-RENT (844-691-7368)

Another tip: Any time you call the state helpline, La Mort said you can ask to make sure the representative takes notes about your conversation in the “comments” section of your application in the portal. That way, there’s a record. It also may help to write down the name of the representative you talk to, the date you talk with them, and whatever they tell you.

And another tip: “Apply sooner rather than later,” Dewbre of BronxWorks said. The rent relief program is first come, first served. And just because the money has been moving slowly doesn’t mean that it won’t eventually run out.

One estimate by National Equity Atlas, a research group associated with the University of Southern California, says 830,000 households in the New York State are in arrears on their rent for a total of $3.2 billion. The program only has $2.7 billion available.

What’s the deal for roommates or subletters?

The state added some more information to its rent relief FAQ to clear up confusion around roommates and subletters. Check it out here.

So, will the state eviction moratorium extend?

Maybe, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo can’t do it on his own.

New York’s state Legislature would need to approve and pass an extension.

Since the lawmakers are back in session in Albany to potentially impeach the governor, even though he’s resigning, they may also decide to extend New York’s eviction moratorium. A new bill, though, has not been drafted.

And like we said, even if New York doesn’t extend it’s moratorium, the federal moratorium is in place until Oct. 3 — and anyone who applies for rent relief is safe from eviction until they hear back about their application.

Get help applying for rent relief

The state is paying these local nonprofit organizations to help people figure out the confusing application process. And these legal service organizations can help, too.

How’s it going for you?

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve been approved and have received your rent relief payment, or if you haven’t. Email us at opennewsroom@thecity.nyc to let us know how the process went for you!

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