If the United States hadn’t been facing a housing crisis before novel coronavirus, it is now — one that threatens eviction and foreclosure for thousands of out-of-work Americans.
Though many state and local governments were quick to adopt eviction moratoriums and the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act enabled some mortgage forbearance, said housing protections will likely not be enough as the pandemic extends into its fifth month.
Although the CARES Act prevented evictions in properties with federally backed mortgages until July 25, only 17 states have passed additional legal measures ensuring tenants will not be removed if they’ve suffered economic hardship from COVID-19, according to research by Princeton-based database Eviction Lab.
Moreover, more than a quarter of Americans indicated they had missed their previous rent or mortgage payment, or had little confidence they’d be able to pay in a timely manner during August, per a survey conducted by the Census Bureau.
And with the end of the additional $600-per-week in unemployment insurance on July 31, nearly seven million households could face eviction if the federal government doesn’t provide additional relief, according to geographic information software firm UrbanFootprint.
Needless to say, the situation is dire for many Americans, and staring down the barrel of impending homelessness can make it difficult to think clearly. Fortunately, individuals fearful of being kicked out by their landlord still have legal provisions they can tap into to prevent, or at least delay, eviction — here’s how you can flex your rights and stay afloat:
How to Handle Eviction During Coronavirus
While the nationwide eviction moratorium ended July 25 for many renters, and despite the different laws present in each state as it relates to landlord and tenant law, there is an additional component to the CARES Act that prevents immediate forcible eviction come July 26.
As a part of the CARES Act, landlords are required to provide a 30-day notice of “intent to file for eviction,” providing an additional window for renters to plan and adjust.
“Landlords are required, per the CARES Act, to give tenants notice before filing an eviction, making the real start date on evictions closer to August 26,” says Dallas bankruptcy attorney Reed Allmand.
“If your landlord posted for eviction before July 25, and we’ve seen some of those appear, the tenant should verify if the landlord has a federally backed mortgage or any rent-assistance programs through the federal government,” Allmand adds.
It’s also important to note that not every state ended their eviction moratorium on July 25 —California, for example, just extended its statewide ban .
As such, it may be helpful to check out your state’s official website to discern the earliest the eviction process can begin for you. Some states have also specifically prohibited evictions if you can demonstrate your livelihood was affected by COVID-19, adding an additional layer of protection to individuals who are unable to pay back rent.
“Where I practice law in Maryland, the governor’s order prohibits evictions of tenants suffering a substantial loss of income due to COVID-19 so long as the state of emergency is in effect,” says real estate attorney Brian Pendergast.
“I would advise Maryland tenants suffering a substantial loss of income to gather proof of this loss in order to be prepared to make the arguments that these protections apply to them when the time comes.”
- Assess how long you have until your day in court.
- Talk with your landlord to see if you can negotiate a deal before going in front of a judge.
- Consider your free legal representation options.
- Buy some time as you look for a new place.
Negotiating a Deal and Finding Legal Counsel (If Necessary)
After getting a sense of your timetable and how long you have to act, it may be helpful to coordinate with your landlord to see if you can strike a deal.
Even if you had previously expressed your inability to pay rent, now may be a prime opportunity to negotiate your future tenancy prior to.
“If you think you have an upcoming financial hardship, tell your landlord as soon as possible in order to see what options might exist for forbearance or payment plans,” says attorney Charles R. Gallagher III.
Ensure that all correspondence between you and your landlord occurs in writing.
“Don’t rely upon a phone call or text message. Spend the money to send a written letter by certified mail so you can prove it was received,” recommends Gallagher.
If your landlord expects the rent in full and indicates their intention to file a notice of eviction if it isn’t, and you are unable to pay the back rent, you should seek out legal counsel while preparing for the worst.
“If the case is related to non-payment of rent, and there’s no disputing the fact that the rent hasn’t been paid, there’s really not going to be any state legal remedies available,” says Allmand.
With money tight as it is for many families, it may be worth exploring affordable legal options in your area — Allmand recommends looking toward the local Bar Association, a volunteer attorney, or Legal Aid Society.
In the end, your best strategy may be a combination of the factors listed above, utilized in combination to ensure that, should eviction be inevitable, you at least have enough time to find new accommodations.
“I suspect a lot of people right now have some income coming in monthly, but the money owed on rent is so high, after being laid off for four months, that they’re not going to be able to catch up on the rent owed in full,” Allmand says.
“If you can negotiate a deal with your landlord regarding owed rent, go for it — if not, take advantage of the time automatically given by your state’s laws to move out and set up somewhere else if you can, as these measures can help prevent you from ending up without a home,” Allmand adds.
As a final precaution, keep your rights in mind when dealing with your landlord, especially if they demonstrate aggressive behavior vis-à-vis you moving out — and recognize when the law is being broken.
“Each state treats evictions differently, but if a landlord is engaging in a self-help eviction, entering the property without proper notice, or communicating with the tenant in a way that is abusive, those actions are categorically unlawful,” says landlord-tenant attorney Jessica T. Ornsby of A+O Law Group.
Given how many renters are at the mercy of their landlords, it’s possible the federal government may eye additional legislation to prevent widespread eviction during coronavirus. Stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 news by following CentSai’s dedicated page so you can prepare in confidence.