So where are the folks who are evicted ending up? Are we seeing a huge increase in shelter populations?
I do talk to a lot of shelters that are worried that if there is a big tsunami of people ending up there, that they may not be able to handle it. What experts also tell me is, a lot of people don’t go straight from being evicted to necessarily going to a shelter. You may see people staying with friends or with family, or living in a car. I mean, you can consider those things homeless, too, but it doesn’t mean that the shelters are going to be overwhelmed immediately.
About the state’s lottery rental assistance program. It’s my understanding that if you need assistance, you’re placed on a waiting list to get into a lottery where you may or may not actually get the assistance. Is that how it works?
Yes. This lottery was for a $ 500 million pot. Unfortunately, at this time, all of that $ 500 million has been promised to tenants. Now it’s still a good idea to apply because maybe we’ll get some more money. There is a state budget process right now. We aren’t sure what’s going to happen there, but the other reason why a tenant should still apply for that pot specifically is, it can delay their eviction case. A court will adjourn your case for 60 days if they see that you have a pending application for rental assistance.
New Jersey took another interesting step for tenants who’ve missed their rent. It can be converted into civil debt. Now that was during the pandemic, correct?
This option has always been around, but this kind of took a step away from landlords. Normally, if a tenant misses rent, the landlord has two options, and they can do both: One is filing for eviction and the second is suing in small claims court for the missed rent. The state of New Jersey didn’t want a wave of homelessness, a lot of people kicked out of their homes in the middle of this pandemic. So they got rid of that eviction option, but landlords could still sue in small claims court for the back rent and people could have money taken out of their wages or through their banks.
Where can folks get some help navigating this? It’s just overwhelming.
It’s overwhelming for me, and I cover housing. I always recommend if you need legal assistance, you should contact either Legal Services of New Jersey or Volunteer Lawyers for Justice. I also mentioned New Jersey’s COVID-19 renter assistance site. More resources are listed at my site, NorthJersey.com.
Thank you, Ashley. Appreciate all the info and for staying on top of this.