President Joseph Biden extended the federal eviction moratorium through spring, but statewide housing advocates say some renters are still being evicted simply because of a lack of awareness of available protections.
Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order, effective Sept. 4 through Dec. 31, 2020, preventing qualifying residential tenants from being evicted for nonpayment of rent due to the pandemic. In December, the U.S. Congress extended the order to Jan. 31. Now, per President Biden’s executive order, the CDC has extended the eviction moratorium once more through Mar. 31.
But the burden of proof largely falls on the tenant, housing advocates say, who may or may not know about the federal moratorium in the first place.
“One of the problems is renters just don’t know (about the order),” said Madison Sloan, director of the Disaster Recovery and Fair Housing Project at Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based nonprofit. “And the people who are more likely to be evicted are families with children, women, Black, and Latinx families, so there is a real disproportionate racial component to this as well. Communities of color have been much more vulnerable and much more affected by COVID.”
One in five renters are not caught up on rent during the pandemic, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) analysis of U.S. Census Bureau survey data from Jan. 6-18, with Black and Latino adults reporting a larger share of the hardship.
Julia Orduna, of statewide nonprofit Texas Housers, reviewed the data of Texas Housers volunteers who watched 244 eviction case hearings in Harris County in December.
“From those 244 hearings, only 30 people presented a CDC order,” Orduna said. “Most tenants just don’t know, they are unaware of what the CDC order is, or, maybe, they received the paperwork and it was too jargon heavy to understand. If you don’t know about it, how are you going to protect yourself?”
In order to qualify for the CDC order’s protections, a renter must present their landlord with a signed declaration form stating, under penalty of perjury, that the renter expects to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income for the year 2020-2021; that the renter was unable to pay rent in full or make a partial payment due to substantial loss of household income; plus five other CDC-mandated statements. Find a printable version of the CDC’s eviction declaration form here: https://bit.ly/2MAypaP.
Landlords and rental companies who violate the CDC order may face criminal penalties per the Department of Justice. Rental companies could be fined up to $200,000 per eviction event, while landlords could be fined up to $100,000, one year in jail, or both.
Evictions haunt renters for years, often negatively affecting future housing and job prospects.
“Having an eviction on your credit report is a huge, huge barrier to getting future housing,” Sloan said. “As we see more, in my opinion, unjustified use of credit reports for things like jobs, this is, again, going to have a huge impact on families’ futures.”
Pandemic-related evictions will likely have a lasting impact on the economy for years to come.
“Certainly during the pandemic, when people are being evicted because they’ve lost jobs, because they are sick, because their entire industry has been decimated, it’s really going to prevent people from getting back on their feet in the future,” she said. “It has a tremendous economic impact not only on families, but on society at large.”
During a pandemic, evictions add to an already dire public health situation.
“With evictions, as related to COVID-19, when people become homeless, they are more exposed to COVID-19 in shelters and other settings, they have less access to healthcare, and to protective measures,” she said. “Where do you wash your hands when you’re homeless? The other problem is a lot of people move in with other relatives when they lose their house, and overcrowded housing also increases the spread of COVID-19. It’s important to emphasize the eviction moratorium is a public safety measure -- it is trying to halt and contain the spread of COVID-19.”
Justice of the Peace Bill Cooke, precinct 4, place 2, said his office does more evictions than any Justice of the Peace in Bell County.
But Cooke, who has held his seat for 25 years, said he hasn’t seen an uptick in evictions necessarily due to the pandemic. Between Mar. 1 and Dec. 1, Cooke had 1,540 evictions, according to data provided by his office.
“We normally have more than that,” Cooke said.
Between Sept. 4 to present, Cooke had 59 eviction cases that qualfied for an abatement due to the pandemic -- but those abatements come at a cost to the property owner.
“At this particular time, rent owed by those 59 abatements is approximately $165,318.28,” he said. “We have people out here trying to make their mortgage payment and they’re unable to do that. I can assure you these cases become emotional between the landlord and tenants.”
The CDC order is complicated, he explained, because it isn’t a sweeping order preventing all evictions.
“There are so many things in a rental agreement that someone might violate -- criminal episodes, pet violations, sanitary problems,” he said. “So, even though you filed a CDC declaration that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be evicted. But if you don’t file a CDC declaration, then the judge doesn’t realize you have been affected by COVID-19, so it is up to them to take the initiative.”
Cooke’s counterpart, Justice of the Peace of precinct 4, place 2, Gregory Johnson did not return the Herald’s requests for comment.
For additional information about the CDC order, declaration, and how to find free legal resources visit https://bit.ly/2MclvzY.