Federal Eviction Ban Provides Temporary Relief for Tenants, But Satisfies No One

Federal Eviction Ban Provides Temporary Relief for Tenants, But Satisfies No One

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a nation-wide order that bans evictions of tenants who can’t pay their rent due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of September 1, 2020 and until the end of this year, landlords may not initiate or complete evictions based on rent nonpayment, as long as the tenant qualifies for relief under the CDC’s order.

To qualify, tenants must meet each of these requirements:

  • They’ve used their best efforts to obtain government assistance for housing.
  • They are unable to pay their full rent due to a substantial loss of income.
  • They are making their best efforts to make timely partial payments of rent, and
  • They would likely become homeless or have to move into a shared living setting if they were to be evicted.

Only tenants who meet one of the following financial descriptions may take advantage of its protections. The tenant:

  • expects to earn no more than $99,000 (individuals) or $198,000 (filing joint tax return) in 2020, or
  • was not required to report any income to the IRS in 2019, or
  • has received an Economic Impact Payment (stimulus check) under the CARES Act.

The order urges tenants to pay what they can, and notes that at the end of the year, all of the rent that’s been unpaid will come due. Understandably, tenants are worried—how will they pay a past-due bill of possibly thousands of dollars, if their financial situation remains the same? Landlords will file eviction suits in droves, and unless the government comes up with direct subsidies to these landlords or tenants, the wave of homelessness that the ban was designed to avert will come to pass. Neither landlord nor tenant advocates are pleased with this scenario.

If the government could bail out the auto industry, to the tune of billions of dollars, why can’t it subsidize the residential rental industry? A larger bailout, to be sure, but arguably a much more important goal: preserving the health and lives of millions of Americans.

Tenants who want to claim protection under the order must give their landlords a declaration, signed under penalty of perjury, that they meet the requirements described above. You can use Nolo’s free form, which involves simply printing the form, filling in the blanks, and giving it to your landlord.

If you fall behind in your rent for Covid-related reasons and have not given your landlord your written notice of coverage, the landlord will be able to initiate an eviction lawsuit. (Tenants who live in states with their own bans might be covered by those laws, however.) Completing the form after an eviction has begun might stop the eviction, but in the meantime, you’ll probably need to respond to the lawsuit.

Many states have their own bans, which raises the question: Does the state ban or the CDC ban control? The order says that in this situation, whatever is more protective of public health will take precedence. But how do you measure “protection?” If a state law or order lasts longer than the federal ban (for example, California’s ban lasts a month longer), does that mean that the California law is more protective, and that California tenants are bound by the state law, but not the federal order? No one seems to be sure of the answer.

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