Tenants fear evictions, advocates say know your rights

The federal moratorium on evictions just expired, but New Jersey’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures runs until Oct. 1, another 9-plus weeks.

New Brunswick resident Karee Dillard is among the thousands of New Jerseyans who lost his job. He says to date he has not received a penny in state or federal unemployment insurance even though he’s been calling and reaching out to lawmakers and others.

“I had some money saved away. It’s not there any more. I put some money aside because my dad always told me, ‘Make sure you have some cushion money, you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,'” Dillard said.

Families like the Dillards have rights, and advocates advise that they both protect and exercise those rights. Among them, making property managers aware of the state eviction moratorium.

“Right now, landlord-tenant trials are suspended. You don’t have to leave. Please, do not leave,” said Essex-Newark Legal Services Deputy Director Jose Ortiz.

Essex-Newark Legal Services advises tenants and homeowners to call for help if being pressured or harassed to pay and threatened with eviction or foreclosure.

“In some areas, tenants believe that certain notices are from the courts believing that they have to leave when it’s not from the courts, it’s from the landlord,” Ortiz said.

“You have landlords that are trying to really bamboozle people into accepting agreements that are not in their best interest, where they’re not being adequately represented and that’s wrong,” said Arnold Cohen, senior policy advisor for the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

The Eviction Lab at Princeton University advises to try to strike a deal with the landlord to pay what’s due overtime come October, to call for help, and to call lawmakers who can offer relief in another stimulus bill.

“I think there has to be a recognition that in doing that legislators are not simply bailing out tenants. They’re bailing out landlords and they’re keeping the entire housing system intact,” said Peter Hepburn, a statistician and quantitative analyst at Eviction Lab.

Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake has a bill moving through the state Legislature to put lump sums on the back end of home loans, to encourage pay-over-time back rent agreements and to prevent financial hardship from showing up on credit reports.

“This bill will make sure that people are not asked, homeowners or renters, to pay back in a lump sum that they cannot afford,” she said. “This bill will prevent a mass amount of homelessness. This is good policy. We have to act now as a Legislature. It will be national landmark legislation as there’s nothing else in the country that is providing these types of protections.”

Lawmakers and advocates fear that without protections, come October thousands of families could be forced to shelter with friends or relatives, or simply forced into homelessness.

“If these families are evicted, we will see a homelessness problem like what happened after Hurricane Katrina or the Dust Bowl of the 1930s,” Ortiz said.