Legal Aid sues to compel state to reopen rent relief program

By | December 14, 2021

The Legal Aid Society is suing to force the state to resume accepting applications to its emergency rental assistance program.

Details: The organization charges in a new class-action lawsuit that the closure of the program in mid-November was unlawful and has put “potentially hundreds of thousands of tenants” who are still in need of assistance at risk of eviction.

Under the state law establishing the program, tenants who seek assistance are protected from eviction pending a decision on their application. Legal Aid noted New York is likely to receive additional funds from the federal government, as the Treasury Department moves to redirect unused funds from other states and localities.

“Tenants who would be eligible to receive assistance from the additional federal funding will be unable to obtain a stay of their evictions under the ERAP statute, and will be vulnerable to eviction as of January 15, 2022 when the [current moratorium] expires,” the lawsuit, filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, states. “Such tenants may well be evicted, only to learn later that the federal government allocated money to New York State that could have kept them in their homes.”

Key context: The program stopped accepting applications on Nov. 15 after Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state had nearly exhausted existing resources and requested almost $1 billion in additional funds from the Treasury Department.

Hochul said at the time the state program, run by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, has almost fully obligated its $2.4 billion in funding, covering about 165,000 applications.

According to Legal Aid, the state has actually paid $1.13 billion in rent arrears and approved another $924 million. The group said 591,000 New York households remain in rental debt and are at risk of eviction when the state ban expires next month.

An OTDA spokesperson said the agency will not comment on pending litigation.