The word “landlord” typically houses a negative connotation, particularly now as millions of financially strapped renters struggle to remain sheltered. However, I’ve been hearing from landlords who claim that tenants have been taking advantage of state and federal eviction bans while neglecting or trashing their rental unit.
“My business partner and I are not able to evict our tenant who is destroying our house and who hasn’t paid rent in two months,” said Lavon Pryor, of Gary, who owns a house in the Glen Park section of the city. “The tenant has a full-time job and was not affected by the pandemic
Pryor and his business partner, Cassandra Clark, bought the house July 17, 2019.
“We put extensive work into the home to make sure it was safe and ready for a tenant to move in,” Pryor said.
The tenant, a couple from Chicago, moved into the rental home in July of this year, Pryor said.
“We liked them and decided to take a chance on them. Everything started off good,” he said. “I live near the rental property so I drive past there a couple of days every other week to make sure the maintenance is being kept up. But I noticed after eight days the grass was very tall, weeds were growing and garbage was in the yard.”
Pryor said the tenant also didn’t notify him of a work order repair request, as required in the lease agreement. A water leak problem eventually caused damage to the basement of the house and extensive mold issues.
“I went to inspect it and saw bathroom raw sewage and water,” Pryor said. “I cleaned up all the sewage and water and disinfected the entire basement.”
Due in part to a conflict over this dispute, and other factors not related to the pandemic, Pryor and his partner didn’t receive rent money owed to them, he said. They served the tenant a “quit notice” legal order, giving the couple up to 10 days to come up with rent and late fees.
“We decided it was time for him to be evicted,” Pryor said.
They filed for an emergency possessory eviction at the Lake County government complex in Crown Point, with a Sept. 4 court date. At that hearing, a judge informed them about the latest national moratorium on evictions, ordered Sept. 1 by the Trump administration through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s more comprehensive than the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security), enacted by Congress in March, which expired in late July. The new order can apply to as many as 40 million renters who may be at risk of eviction for nonpayment of rent. Apparently, this may include the tenant in Pryor’s rental home in Gary.
“The judge didn’t even review our evidence. He just flat out denied our emergency eviction,” Pryor said. “He also stated that he was awaiting new information from the new task force that was created for landlords and tenants. And that he couldn’t rule on any evictions until he gets guidelines from Indianapolis.”
Pryor and his partner were also denied a continuance or appeal, they said.
In May, I wrote a column on this topic from the renters’ point of view, offering advice from a judge how to avoid legal consequences when the eviction ban eventually ends. I returned to this same judge for updated input regarding this topic from a landlord’s point of view.
In early spring, Porter Superior Court Judge David Chidester issued an order in his courtroom halting evictions weeks before the Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indiana Supreme Court issued an order freezing all evictions. “But that was the easy part,” Chidester admitted in that column.
“In my court, we have resumed evictions,” he told me last week.
“If the lease involves a federal program such as Section 8 housing, it is stayed by executive order. If it’s a normal lease, evictions can occur. We ask the parties if they are willing to submit to mediation to work it out. If the tenant can pay nothing and cannot make up any past due rent, eviction will occur,” Chidester said.
The new federal order prohibits property owners from evicting eligible tenants due to nonpayment of rent through Dec. 31. It requires renters to sign a declaration, under penalty of perjury, outlining their financial situation and their efforts to obtain assistance. The CDC order allows landlords to continue to collect rent and late fees, but they cannot evict tenants who don’t pay anything. The new moratorium doesn’t apply to evictions on grounds other than nonpayment, such as nuisance, criminal activity, or “waste.”
“Waste is defined as immediate destruction of the property, above wear and tear,” Chidester said. “A landlord can file an emergency eviction based upon waste. Nonpayment of rent is not waste.”
“Normally, a tenant is given one week to leave, but we have now made it 30 days,” he added. “The bottom line is that evictions are currently occurring, and quicker than 30-day departures can occur if waste if proven.”
Also, if it is shown that the tenant has made no effort to make payments since the pandemic began in March, with no effort to pay anything, an eviction can occur with 30 days to vacate the property, Chidester said.
Other landlords have told me their tenants are using the governmental eviction ban, and now the subsequent CDC order, as a legal loophole to not pay rent, with no plans to do so until they’re forcibly removed from the property.
“This isn’t fair to us at all,” one landlord said. “We will be paying the bill that keeps getting kicked down the street by our government.”
I understand this situation is not the norm, and that millions of renters are in serious danger of losing their home at the end of this moratorium. Yet landlords are also facing hardship during this public health crisis. This fact shouldn’t be ignored.