Attorney General James Leads Coalition In Backing Federal Rule Expansion To Protect Vulnerable Tenants From Evictions

In response to the ongoing housing crisis created by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of 18 attorneys general.

She led them in submitting a comment letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support the expansion of rules to protect vulnerable tenants from eviction. The current interim rule requires that landlords of public and project-based Section 8 housing provide a 30-day notice before bringing eviction proceedings against tenants who owe rent.

Under the rule, those tenants have the chance to receive money through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) — federal funds that were given to states to help tenants who fell behind in rent due to the pandemic and expands the notice requirements to all future federal emergencies.

The coalition urges HUD to take further actions to expand the interim rule and to help public housing and project-based Section 8 tenants by halting all evictions where there is an ERAP application in progress; requiring that HUD-supervised landlords seek money, not possessory judgments against tenants who file ERAP or other federal emergency rent assistance applications; and eliminating late-payment fees during all federally-declared national emergencies.

“As our communities continue to face threats of eviction due to the financial hardships brought by COVID-19, HUD can and must expand protections for vulnerable tenants,” said Attorney General James. “The removal of hardworking families from their homes is devastating at any point, but especially during a global pandemic that puts their lives and livelihoods at risk. I will continue to work with my colleagues in government to ensure that tenants throughout New York and across the country have the resources they need to keep a roof over their heads during this difficult time, as well as during other challenging circumstances they may face in the future.”

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HUD’s rule provides new protections for vulnerable New Yorkers and tenants across the country who live in public housing and project-based Section 8 housing, which HUD regulates.

Because of the rule, tenants experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic, and any other national emergency in the future, will get a longer period of time to learn about and apply for ERAP assistance before facing eviction for failure to pay.

The rule also requires these landlords to give a 30-day notice for non-payment evictions, which extends the length of time that tenants can seek federal financial assistance by more than two weeks before facing an eviction proceeding.

Due to the slow pace with which federal emergency funds are reaching vulnerable tenants through the states without eviction moratoriums in place, the coalition believes that additional protections for tenants are needed, including an automatic stay of landlords filing new, non-payment cases when an emergency rent assistance application is in process.

The attorneys general argue that tenants need more than 30 days to learn about their eligibility for federal emergency rent assistance, apply to the program with all of the required documentation, and receive a decision on that application from the state or locality distributing funds, before being faced with potential eviction from their homes.

The coalition also contends that the rule should be expanded to require that public housing and project-based Section 8 landlords be limited — during presidentially declared periods of emergency — to collecting rent debts as money, not possessory judgments and prohibiting them from charging late fees to tenants.

Joining Attorney General James in submitting this comment letter are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

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