The federal government issued new guidelines on the CDC eviction moratorium. It clears up some questions that legal experts have been debating on what landlords can and can’t do including when eviction proceedings can begin. While it clarifies certain aspects of the moratorium for property owners, some scholars say it may also make it more confusing.
New Eviction Ban Guidance
The new guidance was issued late October 9th by four government agencies including the Centers for Disease Control, which issued the original mandate as an emergency health measure. (1) It was intended as a way to keep people safe at home instead of living in a potentially crowded housing situation, or homeless. The Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Renewal also signed onto the update, making the moratorium more of an unified government order.
The CDC ban was issued at the beginning of September and called for a halt to evictions nationwide through December 31st. Any deferred rent payments would be due at that time, and landlords could begin evictions sometime thereafter. It also said that in order to delay rent payments, tenants had to submit a statement to their landlords saying they are unable to make full rent payments due to the pandemic, and had used “best efforts” to obtain any and all government assistance.
Landlords Can Begin the Process
The update clarifies that landlords may “begin” the eviction process during the moratorium, but can’t remove tenants through eviction until the moratorium expires. That’s much different than the first version which simply banned all evictions, so long as tenants meet the criteria for that protection including that signed declaration.
Tenants can download an official declaration form from the CDC website, but the update says it isn’t necessary to use that form. (2) Whatever declaration the tenant gives the landlord must include the same information.
According to the update, the landlord is not responsible for educating the tenant about his or her rights under the ban, or educating them about the declaration that they need to turn in. It also says that landlords have the right to challenge the truthfulness of any statements made by tenants.
The new guidance also answers other questions that have been asked repeatedly by landlords and tenants. One asks, “I have already been evicted. Does this Order apply to me?” The memo clarifies that “any evictions for nonpayment of rent that may have been initiated prior to September 4, 2020, but have yet to be completed, will be subject to the Order.” Evictions that were completed before that date are not covered.
Many Evictions Already Underway
Although the new guidelines give landlords the green light to begin the eviction process, many landlords have already been doing just that. NPR cited a story about eviction cases in Houston. (3) It says that Houston Public Media sent a reporter to four different courthouses to check on some one hundred eviction cases, and that just one tenant was able to avoid eviction because of the CDC ban.
NPR says that oftentimes, tenants don’t show up at court, or they show up but they don’t know their rights under the ban. And many courts are apparently not checking to see if tenants provided CDC declarations, and ruling in favor of landlords.
Of course, many of these evictions are due to other violations of a rental agreement which are not prevented by the ban. That includes criminal activity on the property, health and safety threats to other residents, property damage, and other violations. Many people have adopted pets during the pandemic, and media site JDSupra warns that an unapproved pet could be cause for eviction. (4)
No Long-term Relief for Tenants or Landlords
Tenant advocates say the new guidance may cause confusion among tenants, and scare them into vacating before the end of the year. They say renters want to avoid having an eviction on their record, because that could make it hard to get another rental.
Although the new guidelines provide landlords with more options, they won’t pay the bills for landlords. The vast majority of renters are paying their rent, but some are not, and those landlords may need to evict tenants for their own financial survival. If they begin the eviction process now, that could speed things up after the moratorium expires. Of course, there’s a matter of all that back rent that may or may not be easy to recover.
A new pandemic relief plan could ease the situation. If there are new stimulus checks and another unemployment bonus, out-of-work tenants may be able to pay their rent. As you may know, Congress has been debating the terms of a new relief plan for months and it’s not clear if or when that might happen.
We’ll have a link to the document with the new guidelines if you’d like to take a closer look. That link will be on the podcast page for this episode at news for investors.com
(1) CDC Article 1
(2) CDC Article 2
(3) NPR Article
(4) JD Supra Article