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Attorney General James reminds landlords to not raise rents if they accept pandemic rental assistance


Mon, Apr 18th 2022 02:15 pm

Landlords who receive payments from Emergency Rental Assistance Program cannot raise rents for 12 months

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued an advisory to landlords reminding them that they cannot raise rents if they accepted or plan to accept funding from the state’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which was recently expanded in the state’s budget. Landlords who accept payments from the program are prohibited from raising rents for a year after they receive the funds. James is ready to take action to protect tenants if landlords fail to abide by ERAP’s rules.

“The rules are clear: Landlords who accept ERAP payments cannot raise rents for 12 months,” James said. “This program was created to support struggling tenants and keep New Yorkers in their homes during the pandemic. Landlords who accepted payments from the state, yet are still raising rents, are double dipping and breaking the law. I urge any tenant who accepted ERAP payments and received a new lease with rent increases from their landlord to contact my office.”

ERAP is a rent relief program that provides support to low- and moderate-income tenants across the state who could not pay rent during the pandemic. Since the state started accepting applications in June 2021, it has provided hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with financial support to pay off back rent. It pays up to 12 months of rental arrears accrued on or after March 13, 2020, as well as up to three months of additional rental assistance going forward. In addition, the program pays up to 12 months of electric or gas utility arrears that accrued on or after March 13, 2020. The program was recently infused with an additional $800 million.

Landlords who accept ERAP payments agreed:

√ Not to increase the monthly rental amount for one year from receipt of the ERAP payment;

√ To waive any late fees due on any rental arrears covered by the ERAP payment; and

√ Not to evict ERAP recipients when their lease expires. This does not apply if the apartment is in a building of four or fewer units, and the property owner or owner’s immediate family members intend to immediately occupy the unit for use as a primary residence.

The Office of the Attorney General has received reports from tenants that landlords who accepted ERAP payments are sending them renewal leases with rent increases amid the 12-month grace period. While these leases may be generated automatically by management, the AG cautioned landlords not to seek rent increases in renewal or new leases that commence during the 12-month period.

“Now more than ever, it is critical for tenants across New York to empower themselves and know their rights under ERAP, and for landlords to adhere to the law,” said Judith Goldiner, attorney-in-charge of civil law reform unit, The Legal Aid Society. “We applaud Attorney General James for putting property owners on notice and reinforcing that there will be serious consequences for unscrupulous landlords.”

“The Emergency Rental Assistance program has been an effective tool in ensuring tenants can remain housed during a global health crisis,” said Meghan Zickl, legal tenant advocate, PUSH Buffalo. “Continuing to fund ERAP is a decision we are relieved the New York State Legislature made a priority in the most recent state budget. However, we remain concerned about landlords who will take advantage of this mutually beneficial program and seek to undermine the tenant protections in it by raising the rent during the first year, apply excessive late fees, or even trying to move their tenants out, all while accepting ERAP. We have seen this happen in the prior round of ERAP funding, and we must remain aware of those patterns and address them if our goal is to stabilize our communities.”

“The state law that implemented ERAP took measures to promote housing stability,” said Jill Bradshaw-Soto, Esq, chief program officer, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. “Our clients face numerous obstacles to maintaining safe and sustainable housing, and these challenges have increased during the pandemic. As the majority of tenants in housing court are unrepresented, it is critical that both tenants and landlords are informed and understand the ERAP program and its protections.”

James offered the following tips and guidance to tenants who have received funding from ERAP:

√ Return leases that have a rent increase. Leases that include an increase within 12 months of the landlord receiving ERAP payments should be returned to the landlord with a note explaining the landlord received ERAP payments and cannot increase the rent. Tenants should follow up with management to explain why the lease is improper and ask for a new lease to be issued.

√ Monitor rent statements. Check rent statements to make sure rent hasn’t been increased or that the landlord is charging late fees for any of the months covered by the ERAP payment.

√ Do not ignore court papers. Even if the landlord received an ERAP payment, or a tenant submitted an ERAP application, do not ignore court papers.

√ Speak with an attorney. If the landlord is taking a tenant to court, or a tenant has questions about a lease, they should speak with an attorney. They can visit OAG’s tenant help website to find free legal representation.

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