Thankfully, the COVID crisis is winding to a close. I’m sure that you are as thrilled as I am to be returning to normal after fourteen months of unprecedented social and economic disruption. Let’s hope that we are not cursed with another public health emergency for a very long time.
For Westchester County real estate investors, the last year has been a bumpy ride. On the one hand, real estate values and rental occupancy rates soared in our region, due in part to a large-scale exodus from New York City. But this gain has been accompanied by some pain. Since March of 2020, it has been illegal in the United States and New York to evict tenants for non-payment of rent (subject to applicable qualifications and restrictions).
It seems nearly certain that the national eviction moratorium will end on June 30. According to NPR (National Public Radio), 7 million Americans are behind on their rent as of today.
Multiple lawsuits are winding their way through the Federal judicial system litigating the constitutionality of the CDC Eviction Moratorium (the national eviction moratorium). Since that moratorium is now (in three weeks) effectively over, the relevance and impact of these legal proceedings are unclear.
Governor Cuomo signed an extension of the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020 in early May. That means no New York State landlord can evict a tenant for non-payment of rent (for those filing a hardship declaration) until at least August 31, 2021. Not only are tenants protected by this legislation, homeowners and small landlords (REIs who own 10 or fewer rental properties) can also not lose their property for non-payment of mortgages (again, subject to filing a hardship declaration). Commercial evictions in New York State are also prohibited for companies with fifty or fewer employees.
Over 46 billion dollars has been appropriated by the Feds for emergency aid to renters. National rent relief is available for rent and utility payments, including past due rent, rental fees, late fees, and relocation expenses.
However, none of this money has been sent directly from Washington to renters or landlords. Instead, the U.S. Treasury makes these funds available through a variety of state and local programs. To further complicate matters, the 46 billion was appropriated through multiple pieces of legislation, making it a cumbersome task to get the money in the right hands as quickly as possible.
In part to distribute these Federal monies, New York State opened the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) on June 1. Applications for tenant and landlord relief are accepted online at https://otda.ny.gov/programs/Emergency-Rental-Assistance.
Here’s an overview of what ERAP provides:
New York residents are eligible for ERAP if their gross income is at or below 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI), if on or after March 13, 2020, a member of the household received unemployment benefits or experienced other financial hardship, if they are in arrears at their current residence for rent owed after March 2020 and if the household is at risk of homelessness or housing instability.
To obtain ERAP relief, property owners need to provide a W-9, an executed lease, documentation of rent due, and banking information, along with declaring that the ERAP payment they receive satisfies the tenant’s full rental obligation for the time period covered by the payment.
As with all government programs, there are numerous details and conditions above and beyond the general terms I’ve described in this article. Helpful videos for tenants and landlords that detail the various application and documentation requirements are available on the ERAP site. Since ERAP is brand new, there is no way to know how well the program is functioning.
For a deeper dive into landlord and mortgage relief on a national scale, I recommend two short but helpful information-filled Forbes articles (less than a five-minute read): Forbes Rent Relief Article and Forbes Mortgage Aid Article.
Let’s try and keep all this in perspective. In February of 2020, we had no idea what COVID was all about and how widespread and devastating its impact would be. Over the past year and two months, we’ve lost 602,000 Americans (CDC data) to the virus. Add to that grim statistic the damage to our economy, our schoolchildren, our mental health, and our way of life. As more and more people are vaccinated, the worst is now behind us, but the impacts of the pandemic will be felt for years to come.
Let’s all be patient with one another as we do our best to mitigate the impacts of this national nightmare. For real estate investors, that means doing all we can to help those in need while working diligently to restore market forces to the rental markets, which is required for both tenants and landlords to thrive over the long term.
At Sterling Property Solutions, we have a team in place that can answer all your property management questions and address any challenges. Please give me a ring at 914-355-3277 or send me an email at Linda@Sterlingpsi.com.