The federal government eviction moratorium ended on July 31st, bringing into question the housing situation of many families. However, days after a national eviction moratorium expired, the Biden administration on Tuesday issued a new, more limited freeze that remains in effect for a longer period.
In response to the ending of the eviction moratorium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then issued a fresh order suspending evictions temporarily in regions seeing an upsurge in coronavirus infections, citing substantial and significant transmission of the Delta form of the coronavirus as a reason for the extension. As of the 1st of August, the CDC reported that more than 80 percent of counties in the United States were categorized as having significant or high levels of community transmission.
The CDC said in its statement that the directive is designed to target certain regions of the nation where cases are quickly rising and are likely to be aggravated by large evictions.
HOW THE PROLONGED EVICTION MORATORIUM IS ENFORCED
It must be noted that the moratorium allows much leeway for evictions to occur – subject to where individuals reside and the jurisdiction that they may fall in. This provides a certain modicum of ambiguity for tenants, depending on which state they may fall under. Questions of evictions and renters’ rights have been raised, especially considering eviction negotiations when tenants are required to catch up on past-due rent.
As of June, more than six million individuals were in arrears on their rent. Landlords in the United States are still due about twenty-seven billion dollars in rent from tenants. A lawsuit was filed by two landlord organizations contesting the current government ban on evictions. The lawsuit accused the Justice Department of ‘gamesmanship’ at the cost of property owners.
The filing was a reaction to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Alabama Association of Realtors and the sister organization in Georgia. The claim from the organizations centered around the argument that the current legislation stopping evictions was a ‘political maneuver’ to extend an ‘unlawful’ federal eviction moratorium.
REASONING FOR NON-CONTINUATION OF THE MORATORIUM
In response to the White House’s proposal to reinstate the defunct grant program, President Biden has been unambiguous in his statement that neither the White House nor the CDC had the power to extend the program. The new eviction moratorium is not an absolute extension or permanent relief but provides immediate respite for the renter households who are currently behind on their rent. Additionally, the moratorium addresses individuals who were at an increased risk of eviction when the previous federal eviction moratorium expired on July 31st.
The foremost aim of the new moratorium has been explicated to ensure renters are safely and stably housed. Furthermore, the two-month period is cited as a transitory period to allow state and local governments more time to distribute emergency rental assistance (ERA) to households in need.
To further boost vaccination rates, the moratorium on evictions provides more time for rent assistance to reach the community and for vaccination rates to rise. Quarantine, isolation, and social distance are helpful public health measures that may be used during a pandemic to stop the spread of infectious illnesses. Eviction moratoria make it easier for individuals who are sick or are at risk of spreading COVID-19 to stay away from crowds and instead isolate themselves and quarantine themselves in their own houses.
The new moratorium in effect [A.] prevents tenants who live in neighborhoods where COVID-19 has been detected in a significant or high quantity from being evicted attributed to non-payment of rent, [B.] establishes a ban that lasts two months and applies to tenants who live in a neighborhood where the degree of community transmission is at or above a high or significant level; [C.] mandates renters to provide their landlord with a signed declaration form to be covered under this policy, with renters who previously submitted declaration forms not being required to do so again; and most importantly [D.] does not relieve renters from their obligation to pay rent.
It should be remembered that any eviction conducted between August 1st and August 3rd is not self-executing as to the moratorium, since the rule is not retroactive. Any evictions for non-payment of rent that began prior to the decision — but have not yet been finalized — are subject to the prolonged moratorium. The prolonged eviction prohibition is in force until October 3rd.
The ban will take effect if the region in question starts to see ‘substantial or high levels of community transmissions’ of the coronavirus.
WHEN CAN AN INDIVIDUAL BE EVICTED
The CDC order states that if any jurisdiction in the United States encompassed by the order does not see a significantly increased number of cases for fourteen consecutive days, the order will terminate. However, it has been communicated unambiguously that as soon as the eviction restriction is removed, tenant rights will revert to their pre-epidemic levels, with certain exceptions for tenants who are still economically disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic.
Tenants in residential settlements funded by the federal government and who fall under the single-family category, particularly the departments of Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Veterans Affairs, continue to be protected until September 30th as a result of a Biden administration statement on July 29.
Regardless, the newest order of the CDC protects the tenant from eviction if their neighborhood has been covered therein. Additionally, even if the landlord is not protected, eviction rules remain in effect. Landlords must adhere to the same regulations that existed before the pandemic. If they commence eviction proceedings against individuals, they must properly inform the tenant as to any violation or default on their lease and commence eviction procedures in court. This would also mean that barring a court-ordered eviction, the landlord cannot prevent tenants from entering the flat or house. Locks cannot be changed and personal property cannot be removed. Additionally, tenant utilities cannot be turned off. Landlords who resort to extreme measures like lockouts may assume that they will be exonerated by the tenant’s flagrant wrongdoing. However, the tenant’s failure to pay rent, refusal to clean up after themselves, or other problematic behavior may result in a landlord being sued for wrongful eviction, trespass, or even assault.
Self-help evictions are illegal in almost every state, therefore any landlord breaking the law will be punished. Also, renters may sue for penalties, such as several months’ rent as well as actual money losses, which would be items like the cost of temporary housing. In certain jurisdictions, renters are allowed to stay on the premises even if they attempt to collect rent, whereas in others tenants may only be compensated for losses.
If tenants believe their landlord is attempting to evict them illegally, they are entitled to submit a complaint. However, the tenant should contact the law enforcement agencies and clearly indicate that they are reporting an illegal lockout.
OTHER ASSISTANCE OFFERED
Even if tenants are unable to cover their costs, they should maintain communication with the landlord at all times. Certain landlords are amenable to working with renters and negotiating is always worthwhile. There are renters who are unlikely to get assistance since they ceased paying rent despite the fact that they could afford to do so. Certain landlords have claimed that renters who did not experience job loss took advantage of the ban on evictions. Renters may be unable to bargain to catch up on past-due rent in such situations.
If, however, the fiscal position remains tight, the tenants may want to negotiate a partial payment. If the financial situation improves, they may request a payment plan that allows them to stretch out the back rent and costs, which will be incorporated into the monthly payment.
To minimize the amount they owe, it is recommended to inquire with the landlord about waiving late fees and penalties, with an additional request that any security deposits paid in advance be used toward catching up.
Non-profit housing counseling agencies, authorized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, are a great source of information about alternatives. HUD-approved housing organizations can aid in the search for affordable housing alternatives if tenants are in a position where they are about to be evicted. The Treasury Department has also been responsible to put up a list of rental assistance programs for renters and landlords that may help locate the aid they need.
REQUISITES TO AVAIL RELIEF
As a respite, economic relief will be provided to those with low incomes who are experiencing financial distress due to the pandemic and who have underpaid rent because of this disaster. In certain locations, money is provided to landlords so that they may make up for rent that their tenants fail to pay. A payment plan agreement must be agreed upon by both landlords and renters before funds are issued. It should be borne in mind that rental assistance available is subject to [A.] the state in which the landlord and tenant reside and [B.] qualifying criteria. However, a major issue that has arisen is that prior to the pandemic, the country had no infrastructure to effectively furnish billions of dollars worth of rental relief to individuals in need, forcing states and cities to effectively create their own programs. This has led to multiple issues, not least of which was the overlogging of application portals and the labyrinthine application requirements demanded from both landlords and tenants.
To be eligible, tenants must demonstrate that they have experienced economic hardship due to the pandemic and would be in danger of homelessness if they are evicted. They may have extra requirements from their state and municipal governments. Some locations have stricter income requirements. A number of entities, including non-profit organizations, provide funds to undocumented tenants.
Unlike previous moratoria, the current eviction moratorium does not mean that tenants’ past-due rent is forgiven. The federal eviction ban prevents courts from processing certain eviction cases but it did not cancel rent or any late fees, penalties, or interest charges. Courts in parts of the country not covered by the ban are going to begin evictions again. In parts of the country, landlords who wish to pursue cases against their tenants will again be able to do so.
It is flagrantly illegal to ignore an eviction notice. Furthermore, an important factor that needs to be considered is that since the moratorium is not retroactive and cannot in actuality shelter those renters who have already been evicted from their homes, the priority of the state and local governments should be the provision of Emergency Rental Assistance to tenants. The responsibility of state and local governments should be rehabilitation to prevent destitution. . Most states and communities need to do much more to quickly distribute ERA to struggling renters and to ensure programs are visible, accessible, and preventive of evictions.
Additional renter protections, such as the right to counsel, expungement of eviction records, and just-cause eviction standards, are needed to help protect renters now and in the long term. The National Housing Law Project (NHLP) developed model state legislation for a ‘Safe at Home Act’ that implements many of the policies described in Safe at Home: Non-Monetary Relief for Tenants During the COVID Emergency.
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1. Cox, Chelsey, and Ella Lee. ‘Congress Fails to EXTEND Eviction Moratorium, despite LAST-MINUTE EFFORT.’ USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 31 July 2021, www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/07/30/congress-wont-extend-eviction-moratorium/5423140001/.
2. ‘Temporary Protection from Eviction.’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-eviction-declaration.html.
3. Clark, Dartunorro, and Rebecca Shabad. ‘Judge in Eviction Moratorium Challenge Indicates She’ll Move Quickly to Consider Case.’ NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 5 Aug. 2021, www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/landlord-groups-ask-federal-judge-halt-new-cdc-eviction-ban-n1275998.
4. ‘This gamesmanship comes at the expense of the nation’s property owners — who continue to suffer irreparable harm from the eviction moratorium every day this unlawful policy remains in effect,’ the filing said, asking the court to allow evictions to take place immediately.
5. The White House said the administration asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday to ‘consider once again’ using executive action to extend the moratorium. But the CDC still believes it lacks the legal authority, even for a targeted moratorium affecting only areas where COVID-19 cases are increasing the most.
6. The House of Representatives on July 30th failed to pass a bill that would have extended a freeze on evictions
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Whip James Clyburn released a joint statement on the failed bill, citing that they were ‘dubious that they will be able to persuade the Senate to go along with their proposals.’ Thus they are urging the White House to act on their own.
7. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky:
‘The emergence of the delta variant has led to a rapid acceleration of community transmission in the United States, putting more Americans at increased risk, especially if they are unvaccinated. This moratorium is the right thing to do to keep people in their homes and out of congregate settings where COVID-19 spreads. It is imperative that public health authorities act quickly to mitigate such an increase in evictions, which could increase the likelihood of new spikes in SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Such mass evictions and the attendant public health consequences would be very difficult to reverse.’
8. Tenants in at least 10 states and D.C. will still have some pandemic-related protections that run into August. They are California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Some states and counties have their own eviction bans.
9. Rental assistance is available at the HUD.gov site by clicking on the link for ‘Rental Assistance.’
10. At treasury.gov, search for ‘Find rental help.’ On the page that pops up, look for the part with a drop-down menu to see what state-funded assistance programs are available
11. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has been responsible for the development of over 400 organizations for rental assistance.