Everything to know about Trump’s halt on evictions

September 3, 2020, 9:59 PM UTC

Starting Friday, Sept. 4, a new, expanded eviction moratorium will go into effect with the aim of preventing millions of renters from being evicted due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Ordered by the Trump Administration, the mandate was issued through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since those without housing stability are high risks to contract or spread the COVID-19 virus.

The moratorium is set to run through Dec. 31 of this year, offering legal protections for renters. But there are certain requirements that must be met to qualify, some of which could be subjective. Here’s what you need to know.

Who is eligible?

A renter must meet five stipulations to be eligible:

  1. They have used their “best efforts” to first obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing. Some states and cities might have assistance programs already in place. State and local municipalities might also already have a moratorium in place providing the same or better level protection, in which case the local rules would apply over the federal one.
  2. They expect to make no more than $99,000 in income as an individual or $198,000 if married or filing a joint tax return in the 2020 calendar year. They can also qualify if they were not required to file a tax return in 2019 or received a stimulus check as part of the CARES Act earlier this year.
  3. They are unable to pay the full amount of rent due to experiencing a “substantial” loss of income, or because they were laid off or had to pay “extraordinary” medical expenses.
  4. They are using their “best efforts” to continue making at least partial rent payments as close to the full amount as possible, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses.
  5. Eviction would “likely” make them either homeless or force them to move into a shared living situation, where they could get sick or spread the virus to others.

These requirements can be subjective, though, so in the case of disagreement with a landlord, a housing court judge may have to step in to make the final decision on whether a renter is “covered” under the five provisions or not.

The order states that renters must sign a declaration—found here in this document—outlining these five qualifications, and present it to the landlord. The CDC says a landlord would then not be legally allowed to evict the tenant, or the federal government then impose criminal penalties on the landlord.

What does this mean for landlords?

Landlords violating the order would be subject to a fine of no more than $100,000, a year in jail, or both, if the violation does not lead to death of a renter. If the eviction did lead to a death of a renter, the fine could increase to $250,000, or the year in jail, or both. Organizations that commit this violation could receive a $200,000 fine if it doesn’t result in death, or $500,000 if it does.

Assuming the landlord does not ignore the order, they can still collect some rent as outlined under fourth provision for renters pledging to make best efforts to pay at least partial the amount of rent. The order also does not prevent landlords from charging fees or accruing interest, if those are included under the renter’s lease.

As long as renters are still making partial payments to the best of their ability, landlords can’t evict tenants before Dec. 31 for financial reasons. But landlords still could evict a renter for other usual reasons, like the destruction of property or criminal behavior. It’s possible landlords will attempt to use this reasoning to proceed with an eviction before the end of the year, so tenants should stay vigilant in terms of following the rules of their lease.

The order is expected to face legal challenges. Landlord associations have sued in multiple states to halt previous COVID-19-related moratoriums, claiming they are unconstitutional. If this happens again, the final decision will come down to the courts.

When will the rent be due?

It’s unclear, but it’s likely that back rent unpaid over the course of the moratorium would be due once the order expires on Dec. 31. The moratorium doesn’t offer specific instructions on what will happen, but this is the view of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

“[W]hile an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” the group said in a statement. “This action delays but does not prevent evictions. Congress and the White House must get back to work on negotiations to enact a COVID-19 relief bill with at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance.”

The $100 billion figure was included in the House Democrats-sponsored HEROES Act, a follow-up to the CARES Act, but Congress has not yet reached an agreement.

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