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Eviction moratorium: financial help available, but one landlord says it’s too late

Updated: May. 3, 2021 at 5:53 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - The eviction moratorium has been hard on landlords and maybe even tenants who really haven’t been able to pay rent. However, money is being made available to help.

There are three separate state programs. The biggest is called the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

Counties will decide how to administer the programs. In Lewis County, the Department of Social Services will help with the applications.

Officials are quick to point out that if you apply, you need to show proof of financial hardship from the pandemic.

“What I really don’t want to do is see tenants that have decided not to pay their rent for a year and then come in and suddenly, we won’t be able to help them if they didn’t have a financial falling down during the pandemic,” said Jennifer Jones, director, Lewis County DSS.

Meanwhile, the state’s eviction moratorium officially ended May 1. However, lawmakers are voting Monday night on possibly extending that moratorium through August 31.

For one Watertown landlord, extension or not, he’s done.

Joe Lawler has been frustrated. As a landlord, he had tenants that didn’t pay rent during the pandemic, but he still had to pay his bills.

Saying he couldn’t find help, he’s now set to sell his final property which, the last time we saw it, was a disaster.

“We’ve lost a lot of money due to cleanup, due to tenants not paying, et cetera,” said Lawler.

We met him a few weeks ago and saw the mess tenants left at his Sterling Street property in Watertown.

“You don’t get over those things, both financially and mentally, very easily,” he said.

He says it all comes down to the state’s eviction moratorium.

Due to the pandemic, tenants facing financial hardship can’t get evicted, even if they don’t pay rent. That leaves landlords with a loss of income. Some believe people took advantage - not paying rent because they didn’t have to.

The moratorium ended Saturday, but lawmakers are thinking about extending it through August 31.

Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush (R. - 117th District) will be voting no.

“When the pandemic first started, it made sense. It helped people. We’re now at a time when we’re receiving unemployment checks, CARES Act money, and all of that. That money going to the people should be used to pay bills. Rent is a bill,” he said.

Now, there is federal money going to the states to provide relief for both landlords and tenants.

For Lawler and his property, the damage has been done. He says it’s too late and he’s selling his last property.

“We’ll close a business we’ve been working on for almost 15 years,” he said.

Lawler says he hopes better communication will come of this situation. He says state lawmakers should better understand just how hard the moratorium has been on landlords who just can’t stop paying their bills.

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