Last year the CDC and the Department of Health and Human Services issued a moratorium on evictions to protect renters who had been affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns. The temporary alteration to landlord tenant law was issued on the 4th of September 2020 and protected tenants economically affected by the pandemic until December, 31.
Renters were still expected to make payments on their rent and back payments were expected to be paid by January, 1. Renters had to provide landlords with a Rental Declaration Form informing the landlord that he or she had exhausted all available rental assistance and cannot pay rent due to loss of income as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.
In the last week of January, the Biden administration extended federal leniency on renters who may be unable to pay rent due to lockdowns. The extension prevents most landlords from evicting tenants until the end of March 2021. Here are seven things you should know as a landlord about the eviction moratorium.
1. How to know if a tenant qualifies
A tenant may qualify if they have signed a sworn declaration that affirms:
- The tenant has made an effort to gain public assistance for housing payments or rent
- That the tenant earned no more than $99,000 during 2020 as a single tax filer or no more than $198,000 for couples filing jointly. Renters who were not required to file taxes in 2019 or who received a stimulus check also meet this requirement.
- The tenant has been unable to pay rent due to lost wages, a lost job, or high medical expenses.
- The tenant has made good faith efforts to pay as much of what is owed as possible.
- That the eviction would leave the tenant homeless or be forced into a close-quarters shared living situation.
2. How tenants might resist evictions
If a tenant provides you with a Rental Declaration Form, you should know that he or she is seeking protection from eviction. The form may still mark January 31 as the end date, but you should know that it is likely to be extended. This form will not tell you whether or not the tenant has qualified.
3. Is back rent forgiven?
Back rent is not forgiven. Unpaid rent still accrues. In some states, landlords may even apply fees, interest, and other penalties to late rent payments. If the rental payments are more than $1,000 per month and have not been paid since August 2020, your tenant can expect to be pursued for more than $7,000 in back payments when the current extension of the moratorium expires, including interest and fees that you are legally permitted to pursue.
4. Will qualified renters receive rental assistance?
Renters will not necessarily receive assistance under the rental moratorium. The order primarily delays evictions. The stimulus bill that passed in December includes $25 billion in rental assistance. This assistance is administered by the state and federal governments to the citizen. Renters may qualify for assistance if their income is less than 80% of the median household income for the area if they have been adversely affected by COVID-19 and are at risk of losing their home as a result. The assistance money can be used to pay utilities, back rent, and future rent. Qualifications for the eviction moratorium are not identical to qualifications for rental assistance.
5. What this means for landlords who live on income from rental properties
The eviction moratorium does not include financial assistance for landlords. But property owners who qualify can receive a portion of the $25 billion rental relief provision. You should consult with your local housing agency to learn more about assistance for landlords.
Landlords are still permitted to pursue back rent, evictions, fees, and interest after the moratorium expires. But landlords who violate it could face stiff penalties. Landlords who violate the order may face fines as high as $100,000, one year in prison, or both. If an eviction that violates the moratorium is determined to have resulted in a death, the fine can go up to $250,000 and the one year in jail is still an option for persecutors.
6. What this means for motel owners
The moratorium only protects tenants who have a lease agreement or rental agreement that has not elapsed. Tenants living in hotels, motels, and other forms of temporary housing are not protected. People living in such temporary housing conditions may call the 211 Helpline to contact housing resources in their area.
7. Are all evictions prohibited?
No. Tenants who are not covered are not protected. What’s more, any tenant may be evicted for engaging in criminal activity on the property, for threatening other tenants, and for causing damage to the property.
In conclusion, the purpose of the moratorium is meant to help renters and mortgage payers who are have been adversely affected by the pandemic who are acting in good faith, who do their part to maintain the property they are living in, and who pay as much of what they owe as they are reasonably able to pay. Tenants who have qualified for the moratorium yet can be shown to be acting in bad faith can have their protection revoked.
If you believe you have a good reason to evict a tenant, you may or may not encounter more pushback than usual from the legal system depending on how police and judges choose to enforce the law.
There are many situations where a tenant or property owner may fall through the cracks in regard to the eviction moratorium and related issues. These legal and business related concerns are inextricably intertwined with the unpredictable nature of human life. There are, therefore, many potential situations in which the existing rules and regulations will prove inadequate. If you are a property manager, landowner, or landlord with questions about landlord tenant law, landlord tenant rights, rental law, or landlord rights, you can learn more and access valuable resources at the American Apartment Owner’s Association.