Thank you to the MAR legal team for clarifying the new emergency rental assistance payment process for tenants, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). To better understand this policy change, attend a program for landlords on ERAP Direct Payments to Tenants on Wednesday, July 21st at 12PM. Register here. Here are some basics:
Massachusetts has installed several safeguards beyond federal requirements to protect landlords and assure proper use of these funds. Most notably, before issuing direct payments to tenants, Regional Administering Agencies are required to attempt to first pay the landlord in all cases.
Direct tenant payment are permitted only when:
- Landlord is non-responsive after 7 days to a letter via certified US postal mail with return receipt requested;
- Landlord is non-responsive to three (3) phone, email, or text messaging attempts over five (5) days; OR
- When the landlord confirms in writing that they choose not to participate in ERAP.
Regional Administering Agencies (RAA) must also follow due diligence processes:
- Verify that the same months of rent requested were not previously paid to the tenant or their landlord.
- Conduct a public records check to verify that the landlord listed on tenant application is the owner of the property in question.
- Engage in face-to-face meeting with tenant (virtual or in-person) to verify tenant identity against appropriate documentation, review the Terms of Funding Agreement to obtain tenant signature, and confirm understanding of duties and responsibilities relative to the use of the funds.
- At time of payment, RAAs must provide the signed Terms of Funding Agreement Letter to both tenant and landlord by US mail or email. The letter will include the amount, rental property address, and intended use of funds (i.e. arrears).
- If tenant fails to make the payment within 30 days of signing the agreement, the landlord may report this lack of payment to the RAA. The RAA will then take appropriate steps to address the matter by engaging with both parties.
- In cases where the RAA confirms that the tenant has violated the Terms of Funding Agreement, the RAA will notify DHCD staff who will review each case to determine if appropriate to refer to agencies for investigation into criminal prosecution or civil penalties.
- DHCD, or their contracted entity, will also conduct periodic post-payment audits of direct tenant payments.