Many state and local Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) programs have been slow in getting funds to desperate renters and landlords. New legislation in the House of Representatives will speed up ERA payments, if voted into law. It will also allow landlords to apply directly for emergency rental assistance, and provide protections for tenants in those cases.
H.R. 5196 — the Expediting Assistance to Renters and Landlords Act of 2021 — was introduced by Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) last month. As of now, it is only a proposal, and has not yet been voted on by the House.
The main goal of the bill is to require state and local emergency rental assistance programs to take proven steps that get help to struggling renters and landlords more quickly.
The bill requires programs to use self-attestation for income eligibility, and make direct-to-tenant payments when landlords will not participate. These are proven strategies used by programs that have used a large portion of their funds to assist low-income renters.
The legislation will also allow landlords to apply for emergency rental assistance even when tenants do not provide consent. Landlords can also apply for reimbursement of back rent owed by tenants that have already moved on, as long as the landlord did not start any eviction proceedings against them.
Renters receive extra protections when landlords apply for assistance on behalf of tenants. These requirements protect tenants from being evicted once landlords get their back rent.
Landlords who receive payments for arrears must meet the following conditions:
- Cannot evict tenants for 120 days after receiving assistance.
- Must set aside and vacate any past eviction judgment based on nonpayment of rent.
- Must rescind any eviction notice and agree to seal any eviction filing.
Landlords have to notify tenants in writing that they are applying for emergency rental assistance. They must also inform the tenants about the 120-day protection from eviction. Landlords must also inform the tenants that they will apply for assistance to cover the rent for the next 120 days.
The bill will allow landlords to get reimbursed for back rent on properties that are now vacant. However, landlords can only get assistance if they did not file an eviction notice on the renter that left.
Administrators for emergency rental assistance programs also have some responsibilities when making payments to landlords. They must have a process to notify the courts and renters about the following:
- That rent is no longer past due.
- That any eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent should be halted.
- That renters are protected under the Fair Housing Act.
- That there is a process to file a Fair Housing complaint, and instructions about how renters can file the complaint.
The legislation also sets out priorities for program administrators when they consider whose applications get funded first. Applications from low-income renters and landlords that have the consent of renters get the highest priority. Applications from landlords without renter participation get the lowest priority.
In some places, program administrators may have been concerned that they would be held responsible if they provided assistance to someone who is not eligible. The legislation has a “hold harmless” provision for administrators of programs that let tenants attest themselves that they are eligible. This means that program administrators cannot be fired or sued if an applicant commits fraud.
Finally, the legislation also provides $50 million for outreach and technical assistance. The legislation specifically requires providing information about emergency rental assistance through a mailing to all taxpayers and a mailing to all landlords. There must also be television, radio, and online advertising about the availability of emergency rental assistance.
Representative Waters is Chair of the House Financial Services Committee. The bill was approved by the committee on a 28-22 party line vote. It has been reported to the full House for consideration, but does not yet have a vote scheduled.
Although the bill is likely to be approved in the House, it has a more uncertain future in the Senate. It will need the support of all Democrats and 10 Republicans to get a vote by the full Senate.
The legislation may still gain the support of some Republican Senators. It is focused on speeding up the delivery of pandemic emergency assistance. Congress already approved this assistance with bipartisan votes. The bill also makes it easier for landlords to get assistance, which may appeal to some Republican senators.