Eviction moratorium ordered through end of 2020

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

 

The CDC has ordered a nationwide halt to evictions for the remainder of the year. The order, broader than previous COVID-related federal eviction bans, aims to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 by displaced tenants.

Announced on Sept. 1, and effective as of its publication on Sept. 4, the basic mandate of the order is straightforward: Through Dec. 31, in any state or U.S. territory with documented COVID-19 cases, landlords cannot evict residential tenants for nonpayment of rent if they meet certain income and other requirements. If states or localities provide eviction protections that are equal to or greater than those in the CDC order, tenants can still rely on those protections.

Unlike CARES Act eviction protections, the CDC's national eviction moratorium does not require that tenants seeking protection live in properties that have federally backed mortgages, public housing, or other property for which they receive federal rental assistance.

The CDC eviction moratorium aims to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The order notes that evictions threaten to increase spread of the virus because they force people to move, often into close quarters in shared housing settings with friends or family, or congregate settings such as homeless shelters. The order also notes that unsheltered homeless people are at increased risk of experiencing severe illness from COVID-19.

The new CDC order has teeth.

Individual landlords who violate the CDC order may be subject to a fine of up to $100,000 or one year in jail, or both. If somebody dies as a result of the violation, the criminal penalty is increased to a fine of up to $250,000 or one year in jail, or both. The penalties for organizations that violate the order are fines of up to $200,000 if there is no death, and $500,000 if somebody dies. (There is no mention of jail time for organizational landlords.)

But note, there's a huge but.

Although tenants cannot be evicted for not paying rent through the end of the year, rent is not forgiven. The order does not affect the contractual obligation to pay rent and does not prevent landlords from charging or collecting fees, penalties or interest resulting from the failure to pay rent on time. Unless the order is extended, tenants who have no additional rights under state or local laws will have to pay past due rent in January, and evictions can resume.

And another sizable but...

The order also makes clear that tenants can still be evicted for reasons unrelated to the nonpayment of rent—for example, engaging in criminal activity, damaging property, or violating a building code, health ordinance or other rental contract obligation unrelated to rent payment. Some advocates have voiced concern that landlords might use a pretext to try to evict tenants who haven't paid rent—for example, asserting that some minor noise issue makes a tenant a "nuisance" who must be evicted, when in reality the landlord's reason for evicting is nonpayment of rent.

How to take advantage of the CDC's new eviction protections:

1. Check whether your state offers equal or greater protections against eviction. The CDC order is intended to protect tenants who don't have equal or greater protections available from their state or local jurisdiction. About 20 or more states, plus several counties and cities, have passed anti-eviction rules, although in some cases, these protections have expired.

Look for information about your local eviction protections here:

  • Nolo's state-by-state list of emergency bans on evictions
  • Stanford Legal Design Lab's Legal Help FAQs (to look up your state, county and city eviction protections)
  • The websites of your state governor, state judicial system, and local (city and county) governments

2. Determine if you can meet the following CDC order requirements:

• Income: To qualify, one of the following must be true:

  • You expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for calendar year 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing a joint tax return),
  • You were not required to report any income in 2019 to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, or
  • You received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) under the CARES Act.

• Inability to pay rent: You must be unable to pay your full rent due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, layoffs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses (expenses likely to exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income for the year).

• Likelihood of homelessness: If evicted you would likely become homeless, need to move into a homeless shelter, or need to move into a new residence shared by other people who live in close quarters because you have no other available housing options.

• Seek out government rental or housing assistance: Tenants must make their best effort to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing. (The order explains that “available government assistance” means any governmental rental or housing payment benefits available to the individual or any household member.)

• Partial rent payments: You must be making your best effort to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as your individual circumstances permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses.

3. Print and sign the declaration. The CDC order states that every adult listed in the rental agreement should complete this declaration and provide it to the landlord. It's a good idea to send the declaration to the landlord by certified mail and to keep a copy for your records. Tenants should note that they will sign the agreement under penalty of perjury, so make sure to be truthful.

Download and print the "Declaration Under Penalty of Perjury for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Temporary Halt in Evictions to Prevent Further Spread of COVID-19" here:

Get help

Seek out assistance if you need help with the declaration or in understanding how the CDC order might apply to your particular circumstances.

Also, if your landlord tries to evict you, immediately seek legal help to learn about your rights and to protect them.

  • For tips on finding legal assistance in your state, including free help if you qualify, click here.
  • To find a local legal aid office, click here.
  • To find a private attorney, click here.
  • To find a local tenant rights organization, click here.

Learn more about the CDC's order and other renters' protections:

 

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