COVID-19 Eviction Q&A for Renters & Homeowners as of 4/7/20

These questions and answers have ben prepared by a group of NJ law firms, NJ legal services nonprofits, government agencies, etc. ECLAA thanks the law firm Lowenstein Sandler for their work in compiling everyone's work into Q&As.  ECLAA is proud to be part of this ad hoc COVID-19 legal services group.


COVID-19 eviction information for renters and for homeowners

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For Renters: 21 questions answered

RESIDENTIAL EVICTIONS: WHAT TENANTS NEED TO KNOW


As of April 7, 2020

This document is for informational purposes only, is not intended as legal advice, and does not substitute for consulting with a lawyer about specific facts and circumstances. This document does not constitute a solicitation, and your use of this document does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and Lowenstein Sandler.


LOCKOUTS


  • Q1: Can I be locked out of my home during the COVID-19 emergency?
  • No. On March 19, 2020, New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy issued Executive Order 106, which immediately suspends evictions throughout the state. This is called an “eviction moratorium,” and it means that, except in rare circumstances, no tenant may be removed from his or her home as a result of an eviction proceeding. The eviction moratorium does not affect court proceedings; instead, it prevents lockouts and removals. The New Jersey Supreme Court controls court proceedings related to eviction, which are suspended for now. More information is below


  • Q2: How long will the state eviction moratorium last?
  • The eviction moratorium began on March 19, 2020, and it will last until two months after Governor Murphy declares an end to the COVID-19 health crisis, unless the Governor issues another Executive Order to end it sooner.


  • Q3: Do I still need to pay my rent?
  • Yes. Rent is still due, and you should pay if you can. If you do not pay, your landlord can still demand the rent and file an action against you in court. The court will schedule the case once the suspension of court hearings is lifted (see below). If you need guidance on how to address your rent situation with your landlord during this time, you can call the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency for free counseling over the phone. Visit https://njhousing.gov/foreclosure for a list of counselors by county.


  • Q4: If I can’t afford to pay my rent and fall behind, will I still owe the money?
  • Yes. Any payments you miss now will become back-rent that you owe. One way or another, you will probably have to pay later whatever you cannot pay now, or you will ultimately face possible eviction. If you fall behind on your rent payments, you can try speaking with your landlord to work out a payment plan to avoid having an eviction action filed against you. Additional help may become available for tenants who miss rent payments because of COVID-19-related financial hardship. Check the state’s COVID-19 website and the website of New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency for updates.



  • Q6: What if a lockout notice or warrant of removal has already been issued?
  • The moratorium applies to all pre-existing orders for removal. Any previously issued order for removal is suspended, and you cannot be removed from your home during the moratorium.


  • Q7: What if my landlord locks me out illegally?
  • It is a crime for your landlord to lock you out. Under New Jersey law, only the courts can order evictions, and only government officials can remove you from your home. If your landlord locks you out, call the local police right away.


  • Q8: What happens when the eviction moratorium ends?
  • Unless he lifts it sooner, the moratorium will end two months after Governor Murphy declares that the emergency is over. Local officials will then resume removing tenants who are subject to final court orders of eviction.


COURT HEARINGS


  • Q9: What about court? Can my landlord still take me to court for not paying my rent?
  • Not right now. On March 27, the New Jersey Supreme Court ordered that landlord-tenant court be suspended until April 26. This means there will be no eviction hearings anywhere in the state until April 26 at the earliest, and the Supreme Court may announce further postponements. Check the New Jersey Courts website for updates.


  • Q10. Does federal law prevent my landlord from filing an eviction case gains me?
  • Maybe. Under the recently adopted federal CARES Act, if the landlord has a federally backed mortgage, the landlord may not file an eviction action against you for nonpayment of rent, or charge you fees (such as late fees or attorney’s fees) related to your nonpayment of rent, for 120 days from March 27, 2020 (or through July 25, 2020). After July 25, a landlord with a federally backed mortgage must give you 30 days’ notice before filing an eviction action.
  • As explained below under “Subsidized Tenants,” the 120-day federal eviction ban also extends to tenants living in public housing and participating in various other subsidized housing programs.
  • Additional protection may apply if the building where you live has five or more units and the owner got permission to delay payments on a federally backed mortgage loan. In that case, the owner may not file an eviction action against you for nonpayment of rent, or charge you fees related to nonpayment of rent, during the period when the owner is not making mortgage payments. When this period ends, the owner must give you 30 days’ notice before filing an eviction action against you.
  • You must still pay rent, and you will owe later what you don’t pay now. Like the state orders, the federal law protects you from being removed from your home during the emergency, but you still owe the rent.




  • Q12: What if my landlord has already started an eviction proceeding against me in housing court and I have an upcoming court date?
  • If your court date is scheduled during the suspension, the court will mail you a notice with your new court date. While landlord-tenant court is suspended, you should not go to court, no cases will move forward, and you will not be penalized for not going to court.


  • Q13: Can I still get emergency repairs in my apartment?
  • You always have a right to safe and decent housing. If you have concerns about issues such as inadequate heat, exposure to lead, infestations, leaks, crumbling walls and ceilings, or other hazardous conditions, you should ask your landlord in writing to make repairs (keep a copy). If repairs are not made quickly, you can call 2-1-1, contact the state Bureau of Housing Inspection, or call your municipality to report the problem. Or, if you can manage the repairs on your own, you can make them or pay someone to make them. You can then withhold the money you spent on repairs from your rent (save all receipts for the repairs!). Due to closures, enforcement agencies may be working with limited staff and it may take longer to get repairs or inspections.


  • Q14: What if I already have a court date scheduled for a hearing about emergency repairs?
  • All landlord/tenant court proceedings, including those for emergency repairs, have been suspended for the time being. You can find updates on the dates of the suspensions at the New Jersey Courts website. You should not go to housing court during the suspension. Instead, you should wait for notice of a rescheduled court date.


SUBSIDIZED TENANTS


  • Q15. Can my landlord file an eviction action against me if I live in public housing or have a Section 8 Voucher?
  • No. The federal CARES Act prevents landlords from filing eviction actions for nonpayment of rent for 120 days from March 27, 2020 (or through July 25, 2020) against tenants who:
  • a. live in public housing,
  • b. have a Section 8 Housing Choice voucher,
  • c. live in Section 8 project-based housing, or
  • d. live in other types of federally funded housing, including, among others, certain housing programs for seniors, people with disabilities, people with HIV/AIDS, and people at risk of homelessness.
  • During this period, the landlord also cannot charge fees (such as late fees or attorney’s fees) associated with nonpayment of rent, and the landlord must give tenants 30 days’ notice after July 25 before filing eviction actions.


  • Q16: Is the Department of Community Affairs still open for business?
  • Yes. The Department of Community Affairs (DCA) housing assistance programs continue to operate and do all their basic work, including paying rents to landlords and setting the amount of rent subsidized tenants must pay. DCA encourages subsidized tenants to use the online portal at assistancecheck.com to submit documents, or to send documents through the mail (keep copies!). Subsidized tenants who have questions can contact the field offices or use the main customer service line: 609-292-4080 or customer.service@dca.nj.gov. DCA has announced that it has taken a number of actions to meet the ongoing needs of its clients and to curb evictions and homelessness during the state of emergency. For example, DCA has suspended termination of subsidies in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher and State Rental Assistance Programs, unless the tenant has engaged in violence or threats against others. DCA is also accepting through its online portal interim income re-certifications for tenants who have lost income because of the pandemic.


  • Q17: Is the Newark Housing Authority allowed to evict me now?
  • No. As noted above, the federal CARES Act prevents public housing authorities from filing eviction actions for nonpayment of rent against public housing tenants for a period of 120 days from March 27 (or through July 25, 2020). the Newark Housing Authority manages your rental subsidy, you are also covered by city-level anti-eviction protections. On March 15, Newark’s Mayor Baraka announced a 60-day moratorium on residential evictions for Newark residents who cannot afford to pay their rent due to the financial impact of COVID-19.


EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE



ELECTRICITY, GAS, WATER



  • Q20: Are there extra protections in Newark?
  • Yes. Mayor Baraka’s Executive Order No. MEO-20-0001 extends a 60-day grace period for the nonpayment of water, sewer, solid waste collection, and tax collection charges for Newark residents financially impacted by COVID-19.


  • Q21: Do I still have to pay for utilities and water?
  • Yes. You still have to pay whatever electric, gas, or water bills you normally pay. If you cannot pay now, you will have to pay later. The utilities and water companies are not cancelling debts; they are just postponing shutoffs for the time being. DCA offers low-income tenants assistance with some utility bills..

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For Homeowners: 9 questions answered

RESIDENTIAL EVICTIONS: WHAT HOMEOWNERS 

NEED TO KNOW


As of April 7, 2020

This document is for informational purposes only, is not intended as legal advice, and does not substitute for consulting with a lawyer about specific facts and circumstances. This document does not constitute a solicitation, and your use of this document does not create any attorney-client relationship between you and Lowenstein Sandler.


REMOVALS


  • Q1: Can I be removed from my home as a result of a foreclosure proceeding during the COVID-19 emergency?
  • No. On March 19, 2020, New Jersey Governor Philip Murphy issued Executive Order 106, which immediately suspends evictions and removals throughout the state. This is called an “eviction moratorium,” and it means that, except in rare circumstances, no homeowner may be removed from his or her home as a result of a foreclosure proceeding at this time. You cannot be removed even if a final judgment of foreclosure has been entered and a sheriff’s sale of your property has taken place. The eviction moratorium does not affect court proceedings; instead, it prevents removals. The New Jersey Supreme Court controls court proceedings related to foreclosure. More information is below.


  • Q2: How long will the eviction moratorium last?
  • The eviction moratorium began on March 19, 2020, and it will last until two months after Governor Murphy declares an end to the COVID-19 health crisis, unless the Governor issues another Executive Order to end it sooner.


  • Q3: Do I still need to pay my mortgage?
  • Yes. You will have to make your mortgage payments sooner or later. If you need etra time, however, help is available
  • If you have a federally backed mortgage, you have the right to ask your mortgage servicer for forbearance (a pause on payments) to relieve financial hardship arising from the pandemic. The recently adopted federal CARES Act requires servicers of federally backed mortgages to give struggling borrowers a 180-day grace period on payments. The borrower may request one extension of up to 180 days. During the grace period, the servicer cannot charge you fees, penalties, or interest other than what you would owe if you had paid on time.
  • In addition, Governor Murphy has announced some important relief for homeowners with mortgages, including those that are not backed by the federal government. If you contact your mortgage servicer, you may be eligible for: (1) a 90-day grace period for mortgage payments; (2) assurance that the servicer will not report late or missed payments during this period to credit agencies; (3) a 60-day moratorium on servicers’ initiation of foreclosure sales or evictions; and (4) relief from certain fees and charges for at least 90 days. For more information, check the FAQs issued by the state. You can also check the website of New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency for updates on available help and to access a list of counselors by county.


  • Q4: Is there a national moratorium on evictions?
  • Yes, for some homeowners. On March 18, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a foreclosure and eviction moratorium that applies to single-family homeowners with Federal Housing Authority (FHA)-insured mortgages for 60 days. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will also suspend foreclosures and evictions for at least 60 days for homeowners behind on their mortgages. Federal developments are being tracked on the website of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.


COURT HEARINGS


  • Q5: Can lenders still begin foreclosure proceedings during this period?
  • Yes. The state Executive Order and related legislation specifically state that lenders can bring foreclosure actions during the time the order is in effect. We understand that the Superior Court Office of Foreclosure is still accepting new cases and electronic filings in existing cases. Under an agreement with the state, however, many lenders have suspended foreclosure sales and evictions until May 27 (60 days from March 28).


  • Q6: Will the Foreclosure Office process cases during this period?
  • That depends. The Foreclosure Office administers parts of most foreclosure cases and manages most of the process when a foreclosure is “uncontested,” meaning that the homeowner did not file an answer to the complaint. Under a March 27 order issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court, however, the Office of Foreclosure will not review or act on motions or judgments it received after March 1, 2020. Thus, if the lender asks the Foreclosure Office after March 1 to enter a final judgment against the homeowner or seeks other action to advance the foreclosure, the Office will hold those requests for now. The Supreme Court’s order will remain in effect until the Court lifts it. Please check the New Jersey Courts website for updates on court orders affecting how and when uncontested foreclosure cases will proceed. If you have questions about an uncontested foreclosure case that is pending, you can also try contacting the Office of Foreclosure at 609-421-6100 or Scco.Mailbox@njcourts.gov.


  • Q7: Will the courts hear foreclosure cases during this period?
  • Yes. To date, there is no order suspending court hearings in contested foreclosure cases (in which the homeowner answered the complaint). Please note, however, that the courthouses are closed, and in- person hearings are suspended through April 26 under this Supreme Court order. If you have a court hearing scheduled between now and April 26, either it will be held by video or telephone conference, or it will be postponed. Please check with the court where the case is pending if you have questions. Please also check the New Jersey Courts website for updates on whether the Court extends the suspension of in-person hearings.



  • Q9: Do I still have to pay for utilities and water?
  • Yes. You still have to pay your electric, gas, and water bills. If you cannot pay now, you will have to pay later. The utilities and water companies are not cancelling debts; they are just postponing shutoffs for the time being. DCA offers low-income homeowners assistance with some utility bills.

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