Despite the federal government’s assurances, people are still getting evicted during the pandemic

evictions during the pandemic
Photo via Rental Realities/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

With the COVID-19 pandemic clearly staying put for the rest of 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an eviction moratorium through Dec. 31. So why are evictions during the pandemic still occurring throughout the U.S.?

According to NPR, there have been more than 9,000 eviction cases in Houston during the pandemic. In early September, Houston Public Media sent a reporter to four courthouses to observe almost 100 eviction cases. The reporter found that just one renter could use the CDC order to block their eviction. 

Houston is not alone. In the 17 cities tracked by Eviction Lab, landlords have filed more than 48,000 evictions during the pandemic. In the second week of September, the organization followed 1,324 evictions. Of the 17 cities tracked by the Eviction Lab, Phoenix had the most that week with 510 evictions. 

Lawyers told NPR that landlords get away with evictions because renters either don’t know about the ban or they don’t understand the rules or their rights. Additionally, courts aren’t informing renters of the CDC’s ban. 

“We’re still working in that murky period between [when] the order hits and the courts and the government bureaucracy figures out how to actually implement it,” John Henneberger, co-director of Texas Housers, told NPR.

The majority of renters don’t have legal assistance to tell them their rights. According to the Popular Info newsletter, just 10% of renters have legal aid, while 90% of landlords do. 

The Chicago Tribune reported that many renters receive 30-day notices, which are not included in the eviction moratorium. Philip DeVon, an eviction prevention specialist with the Metropolitan Tenants Organization, told the Tribune that many evictions happen outside of court settings. 

“The eviction moratorium just means that they can’t be kicked out in the traditional sense, with a court order and the sheriff coming to enforce that order,” DeVon said. “I think a lot of people are just intimidated into silence, because it’s something where you’re vulnerable.”

There are other loopholes, too. For example, the moratorium only covers evictions for non-payment of rent. If your lease expires during the pandemic and you can’t afford to move, your landlord can still evict you. 

Velimir Rasic, an attorney with Lone Star Legal Aid, told NPR that renters facing eviction must send a written declaration to their landlord. 

According to the declaration form, renters must certify that: 

  • They have “used best efforts to obtain all available government assistance for rent or housing.”
  • They make $99,000 or less. ($198,000 for a couple.)
  • They are unable to pay their rent, “due to substantial loss of household income, loss of compensable hours of work or wages, lay-offs, or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.”
  • They are “using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as…circumstances may permit, taking into account other nondiscretionary expenses.”
  • They “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 I have no other available housing options.”

In some states, renters must then prove that they are struggling to pay rent because of the pandemic specifically, according to Popular Info. 

The CDC’s nationwide eviction moratorium went into effect as more than 18 million Americans are still unemployed during the public health crisis (and with potential Social Security benefit cuts looming). These Americans are also going without additional protections—like increased unemployment benefits—that would have been provided by a new coronavirus stimulus package, which Congress has not passed. 

Stout, a global advisory firm, told Popular Info that 17.3 million households—or 42% of renter households—currently cannot pay rent and are at risk of eviction. That could lead to 11.7 million eviction filings during the next four months. 

Sources: CDC, NPR, Houston Public Media, Eviction Lab, Chicago Tribune, CNBC

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