NEW YORK — The Legal Aid Society urged New Yorkers in need of rental assistance to apply for the state’s Emergency Rent Relief Program (ERAP), which reopened on Jan. 11, after a court ruling in Hidalgo v. New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) — class action litigation brought by Legal Aid—which ordered OTDA to resume accepting applications.

“New York’s ERAP portal has reopened, resuming access to rental assistance for our clients and countless other families at risk of eviction,” said Ed Josephson, Supervising Attorney in the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

OTDA is responsible for the administration of funds under ERAP, which was established via legislation in 2021. Since its creation, ERAP has paid $1.25 billion in rent arrears for 100,000 families and approved an additional $770 million to pay the arrears of an additional 62,000 families whose landlords have not yet completed paperwork needed for release of the payments. However, over 400,000 New York families remain behind on their rent, but did not apply for ERAP before the portal closed, and without today’s ruling, those families would have been vulnerable to eviction when New York’s statewide moratorium expires on January 15, 2022.

Although New York State has spent or committed all its current ERAP funds, it will be eligible to apply for additional funding this Spring from an $18 billion national pool of unspent ERAP funds.

On Dec. 13, 2021, The Legal Aid Society sued OTDA, arguing that closing ERAP to new applicants before all funds are exhausted violated OTDA’s duties under the ERAP statute and exceeded its lawful authority. Their actions, moreover, violated the Legislature’s clearly expressed intent of protecting eligible families from being evicted while they are waiting for federal funds to be fully distributed.

This lawsuit was filed on behalf of four individual tenants, on behalf of all tenants who are eligible for ERAP but who were barred from applying for relief due to OTDA’s premature closure of the program to new applicants. Housing Court Answers and Coalition for the Homeless were organizational plaintiffs.

Under the state’s ERAP statute, tenants who have submitted ERAP applications are protected against eviction proceedings pending a decision on their application. However, due to the closure of the ERAP portal, families who otherwise could have applied for ERAP would have been vulnerable to eviction when the state’s eviction moratorium expires on January 15, 2022, even though federal funds may not yet have been fully allocated, much less distributed.

The lawsuit argued that OTDA’s refusal as of November 15, 2021 to accept further ERAP applications despite a pending request to the federal government for additional funds, was arbitrary, capricious, beyond the scope of their authority under the ERAP statute.

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