By NIKITA BIRYUKOV
New Jersey Monitor

New Jersey’s eviction moratorium is set to expire with the start of the new year, ending protections for roughly 350,000 middle and low-income households that have been in place since March 2020.

Though a broader ban that barred removals for all New Jerseyans regardless of income level expired in August, a bill Murphy signed early that month kept protections for renters making 80% or less of their area’s median income. Those protections will sunset Dec. 31.

Renters making up to 120% of their area’s median income cannot be evicted for late or missed rent payments due between March 2020 and Aug. 31, 2021.

For Montclair, the area median income is $99,500, according to Census records.

New Jersey has seen a massive swell in landlord-tenant cases since the start of the pandemic. The cases account for a majority of the courts’ backlog, but most of those proceedings are on hold as the judiciary wrestles with the volume of cases and shortages of space and judges.

In Montclair, 41% of households are renters, according to Census estimates.

At a mid-December press briefing, Gov. Phil Murphy indicated he and legislative leaders do not intend to extend the eviction moratorium in the near future.

Renters need to certify for assistance as eviction moratorium winds down

“Would we consider it? Yes, but at the moment it’s not in the cards,” the governor said Dec. 13.

Even as the eviction moratorium is set to expire, lawmakers pushed, and Murphy signed, a bill to prevent water and sewer utility shutoffs during the winter months, advancing a measure that would block such service stoppages until March 15, 2022.

The bill brings shutoff rules for water and sewer utility services in line with the state’s Winter Termination Program, which bars gas and electricity shutoffs between Nov. 15 and March 15 for certain ratepayers, including those who are unable to pay their utility bill because of job loss.

New Jersey’s daily COVID-19 case counts have surged with the arrival of the omicron variant. New Jersey recorded record numbers of new cases in December, with daily counts on some days more than doubling the previous record set in January 2021.

New virus deaths have remained in the low double-digits, but Murphy has warned the surge might spur a new round of virus restrictions. If that happens, advocates want renewed protections for renters who find themselves in arrears.

“If there are additional restrictions in New Jersey in order to protect people’s health, reduce people’s ability to pay their rent or make their mortgage, we would want to see comparable housing protections,” said Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey.

This story is provided by New Jersey Monitor, and originally appeared here. The version above includes additional prior reporting by Montclair Local Associate Editor Jaimie Julia Winters.