A New York judge on Thursday ordered a state agency to temporarily accept applications from financially struggling tenants seeking pandemic rent relief under a state program that had been shuttered for lack of funds.

Justice Lynn R. Kotler of the State Supreme Court gave the Office of Temporary and Disability Administration, the state agency administering the $2.4 billion program, until Tuesday to let tenants who owe back rent file their applications. The preliminary injunction came days before a statewide moratorium on evictions expires on Jan. 15, but even with the Thursday ruling it’s unclear if the state has the money to provide additional relief.

“We laud this decision, which acknowledges the Legislature’s clearly expressed intent to protect families from being evicted while they are waiting for federal funds to be fully distributed,” said Ed Josephson, a supervising attorney at The Legal Aid Society, which filed the class-action lawsuit in December.

Under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, commonly known as ERAP, low-income tenants can apply for funds to help pay rent arrears that accrued during the Covid-19 pandemic. Payments go directly to their landlords and renters can’t be evicted while their applications are pending.

In November, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Administration stopped accepting most new applications, saying there was not enough money to meet the overwhelming need. The agency said it’s short about $850 million.

But Kotler said the projected lack of funds was not sufficient legal justification to close the application process.

“Whether those funds will exceed respondent’s [Office of Temporary and Disability Administration’s] current liabilities is anyone’s guess,” Kotler wrote in her decision. “Respondent submits that the court should defer to its guess that funds will be insufficient. The court disagrees.”

More than 400,000 New York families remain behind on their rent, but did not apply for rent relief before the program was shut down, according to the Legal Aid Society.

New York will be eligible to apply for additional unspent relief funds from the federal government in March.

Both parties agreed to adjourn the case until March.

A spokesperson for the OTDA said the agency was reviewing the decision.

(this story/news/article has not been edited by PostX News staff and is published from a syndicated feed)

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