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Public Employee Press: PEP Talk

Municipal Employees Legal Services (MELS)

MELS helps members facing eviction during COVID-19 pandemic

Call MELS at (212) 815-1111 to make your appointment or email for assistance.

By WILLIAM WHALEN, Chief Counsel and MELS Director

DC 37 MELS has been at the forefront of defending members in cases that threaten their home. In the past several months, MELS legal assistants have been assisting our members in navigating the online system created by New York State for tenants to apply for help paying rent or utility arrears with a grant from the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP).

Before the online application was even available, MELS made it a priority to contact those who were experiencing financial hardship during the pandemic, an ERAP eligibility requirement. For those members who were unable to complete the online application by themselves, legal assistants personally met with them at our offices.

In June 2021, the ERAP online application was launched to assist tenants living in qualified apartments who are facing eviction due to COVID-19. ERAP provides a one-time payment directly to the property owner for approximately 12 to 15 months of arrears. Sometimes, the ERAP payment will pay off all arrears or substantially reduce them. In the event that the application is approved for only a portion of the rent arrears or the application is denied, tenants are encouraged to call OTDA at 844.691.7368 to request an appeal. The appeal must be requested within 30 days after the decision. If a balance exists after the ERAP payment, ERAP might pay for additional rent arrears as long as funding is available. In many cases, where HRA has denied rental assistance to a tenant based upon excessive arrears, ERAP has accepted and approved the application.

This was the case with one of our DC 37 members for whom Judith Nadal, a MELS legal assistant, went to bat. The member, who is single and residing alone, had accrued rent arrears in the sum of $21,000. HRA had denied this member’s application for a rent grant to pay the rent, citing excessive arrears. Despite what looked like a hopeless situation that would end in an eviction, Nadal encouraged the member to apply for ERAP.

As a result of Nadal’s advocacy, ERAP paid $16,250 of the member’s rent arrears. To pay for the balance, Nadal reached out to community-based agencies and secured an additional $1,500. Armed with a financial package consisting of the ERAP benefit and the charitable grant, Nadal advocated with HRA, despite their previous denial, to obtain a grant to pay the balance. As a result of Nadal’s tireless efforts, this member, who had feared a visit from the marshal, remains safely in place at home.

During the period from March 20, 2020, to the beginning of Nov. 2021, MELS attorneys helped 2,533 members with housing related litigation and/or questions, while MELS legal assistants advocated on behalf of 663 members in order to obtain approvals for ERAP and/or for one-shot deal applications.

Members should know that after ERAP funding is exhausted, a tenant who falls behind in rent payments can apply for emergency rental assistance from HRA (colloquially known as a “one-shot deal”), public assistance benefits, and/or charitable financial help from community-based agencies.

To apply for assistance from HRA online, visit the following website:

To reach community-based organizations, call Housing Court Answer at 212.962.4795.

To connect to rental assistance programs like CityFHEPS and other programs available through the State and Federal Government, go online:

Once members apply online for these services themselves, they can contact MELS for additional assistance.

In addition to assisting members with ERAP, the MELS attorneys have been able to temporarily halt eviction cases by filing hardship declaration forms signed by their clients. Where the tenant has endured financial hardship as a result of COVID-19 or where an eviction would exacerbate their health conditions, the tenant can use the hardship declaration to temporarily pause the eviction case until Jan. 15, 2022. However, after that date, the landlord can continue with the case in Housing Court.

MELS has been meeting its mission of keeping our members in their homes for decades, and will continue to do so. Please call our Screening Department at 212.815.1111 to obtain legal representation or to get answers to your housing questions. We look forward to your call!