NJTO represents Tenants Rights during Pandemic!

By Patricia Hilliard

Facing unemployment and delayed checks, tenants in NJ also face the possibility of losing their homes. NJTO has been representing tenants during this crisis. Matt Shapiro, president of New Jersey Tenants Organization, has been putting pressure on Gov. Murphy to do something to help tenants.  

With tenants in consideration, Gov. Murphy did say that rent deposits can be used to pay one month’s rent. He also called for a temporary moratorium on evictions and forbid lock-outs, but Shapiro thinks tenants need more. When the time runs out on the moratorium, what will happen? “I don’t think (Murphy) is seeing the full picture. Tenants are screwed and... he needs to take strong action,” Shapiro noted.  

Clearly, if tenants don’t have the money, they can’t pay rent or late fees. Sure, the lease says rents are due every month, but exceptions need to be made because of the pandemic. According to NJ.com (4/2/2020), “More than 206,000 people filed for unemployment in New Jersey in the week that ended Saturday, breaking all records for claims, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and during the depths of the Great Recession.” If corporations, small businesses and house owners can be bailed out, tenants must be given adequate help to pull through this crisis as well.  

Roughly 35 percent of New Jersey residents rent their home or apartment, according to Census data. (Nj.com 4/2/2020) Some tenants may get their unemployment checks just in time to pay the rent, but evicting those who can’t pay will create further hardships. How will these people return to work if they have no homes? Landlords must be prevented from creating homelessness. As the Asbury Park Press points out, “Garden State rentals also take a larger slice of the average tenant's income than most other states, with nearly half paying more than 30% of their salary toward housing. (4/10/2020)

Some tenants are contemplating rent strikes. There have also been calls for rent strikes, from Los Angeles to New York, according to a survey by the Associated Press. A national organization dubbed RentStrike2020 has been launched and has an online petition that boasts 1.5 million names seeking relief in every state. (Asbury Park Press 4/10/2020)

The NJ Assembly is calling a Housing Committee meeting on June 16 to introduce legislation to help tenants. NJTO has offered an Amendment to A-4226 that would improve on what has been discussed. 

NJTO’s proposed amendments include a fair process of mediation that puts tenants on an equal footing with landlords in solving the financial problem. NJTO suggests that tenants can make repayment for back rent based on a formula agreed to with the landlord during mediation. Any eviction actions for non-payment filed after the start of the Health Emergency should be dismissed. There should be no rent increases, late fees, lawyers’ fees from the start of the Health Emergency to the end of the repayment period. Tenants should be given 180 days after the emergency is over, before repayment begins. Landlords should be required to apply for mortgage forbearance. Tenants’ repayment obligation should be reduced by their proportionate share of expense reductions.

In times of stress like these with the fear of illness and death, with the attacks on civil rights and with the threat of eviction and homelessness, civic leaders must do everything they can to restore peace and good will by protecting those who have the least and deserve special consideration. Tenants deserve a bailout as much as anyone else.