UNION CITY — The pandemic-induced eviction moratorium in New Jersey is winding down, and the end is near for folks who make more money.

During a public event on Wednesday, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation that adds to and sets a timetable for renter protections, doles out money to help renters and landlords, and aims to keep countless New Jersey residents from losing their homes for nonpayment during the coronavirus pandemic.

"First and foremost, we will be injecting $500 million dollars in direct tenant relief," Murphy told a crowd on Summit Ave. "And we will also step up with an additional $250 million in utility assistance where needed."

Under the legislation, S3691, evictions remain paused through the end of August for households that bring in less than 120% of their area median income. The moratorium remains in place until the end of 2021 for households with incomes below 80% of their area median income, if they can provide proof of income, show that they've been unable to pay rent due to circumstances arising from the public health crisis, and prove that they have applied for other rent assistance programs.

"This does not mean that tenants won't have to make up for rent payments missed from March 2020 through the end of this year," Murphy noted. "If you owe rent, those payments will still have to be made."

But, overdue rents cannot be used as grounds for an eviction, the new law states. Instead, unpaid rent is considered a civil debt — landlords can still recover this money in court, but can't use the debt as a reason to kick someone out of their home.

Missed rental payments cannot be reported to creditors or be used to deny future housing.

"This legislation is a prescription for preventing evictions, which disproportionately harm Black and brown families with children," said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey. "New Jersey is leading the nation by preventing tenants from being evicted for owing back rent during the pandemic and by getting rental assistance to impacted tenants and landlords as quickly as possible."

The law will also clear the way for current eviction actions to be dismissed against renters earning under 120% of the area median income. Murphy said the Department of Community Affairs is creating an online tool where renters facing eviction actions can certify their income status.

According to advocacy groups, nearly 90,000 tenant eviction cases have been filed in New Jersey since the public health emergency began in March 2020.

Another bill signed into law, A4463, makes confidential any court record regarding a person's nonpayment of rent from March 9, 2020 through Aug. 3, 2021, and prohibits landlords from considering such information when evaluating prospective tenants.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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