The Trump administration has ordered a temporary halt on evictions through the end of the year as the nation continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and faces a wave of people at risk of losing their homes.
The order made through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says renters who meet certain conditions cannot be evicted “if they have affirmatively exhausted their best efforts to pay rent, seek government rental assistance, and are likely to become homeless due to eviction,” according to the White House.
The moratorium applies to individuals who earn $99,000 or less, couples filing jointly that earn no more than $198,000, or those who received a stimulus check earlier this year.
The new ban is being met with mixed response from advocates for low-income residents as well as organizations representing the multifamily housing industry.
A national moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent is overdue and an essential step, but it’s a “half measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” according to Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“This action delays but does not prevent evictions,” she says. “Congress and the White House must get back to work on negotiations to enact a COVID-19 relief bill with at least $100 billion in emergency rental assistance. Together with a national eviction moratorium, this assistance would keep renters stably housed and small landlords able to pay their bills and maintain their properties during the pandemic.”
David Dworkin, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, says the order “merely kicks the problem down the road to January, when the weather will be colder and more people will be experiencing even greater crisis.”
“There is broad agreement across the housing industry that the only real solution to this crisis is federal rental assistance,” Dworkin says. “For property owners, it is a crushing unfunded mandate that will bankrupt many small businesses. For 43 million renter households, it creates a complicated and opaque maze that those most in need cannot possibly navigate. Congress and the White House must reconvene negotiations on a comprehensive solution immediately. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin has said, ‘Our first choice is to have bipartisan legislation that allocates specific rental assistance to people hardest hit.’ If there’s that much agreement, then there is no reason to delay any further.”
According to the latest action, “Nothing in this order precludes the charging or collecting of fees, penalties, or interest as a result of the failure to pay rent or other housing payment on a timely basis, under the terms of any applicable contract.”
However, housing groups remain worried about the impact on not only residents but landlords.
Bob Pinnegar, president and CEO of the National Apartment Association, says his members are deeply concerned.
“Without direct rental assistance, rents cannot be paid, and owners face a financial crisis of their own by not being able to maintain properties and pay their mortgages or property taxes,” he says. “This action risks creating a cascade that will further harm the economy, amplify the housing affordability crisis, and destroy the rental housing industry. This global housing crisis cannot be blamed on the rental housing industry, nor can the industry bear the brunt of the pandemic alone. We need balanced, reasonable solutions for all Americans.”
National Association of Home Builders chairman Chuck Fowke adds that it’s imperative that the White House work with Congress on a new relief package to protect renters and small business property owners who are suffering severe financial stress from the pandemic.
“Absent rental income, these small mom-and-pop property owners must continue to pay their mortgage, property taxes, employees, and cleaning/maintenance services. And without sufficient rental income, a number of properties would be pushed into foreclosure. Congress must act now to assist renters and property owners,” he says.
These concerns are shared by the leadership of the National Multifamily Housing Council (NHMC).
“We are disappointed that the administration has chosen to enact a federal eviction moratorium without the existence of dedicated, long-term funding for rental and unemployment assistance,” says Doug Bibby, NMHC president. “An eviction moratorium will ultimately harm the very people it aims to help by making it impossible for housing providers, particularly small owners, to meet their financial obligations and continue to provide shelter to their residents.
“Not only does an eviction moratorium not address renters’ real financial needs, a protracted eviction moratorium does nothing to address the financial pressures and obligations of rental property owners. Without mortgage forbearance protections and protections from other property-level financial obligations such as property taxes, insurance payments, and utility service, the stability of the entire rental housing sector is thrown into question.”
Bibby says he agrees with secretary Mnuchin, House speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Sen. Chuck Schumer that policymakers need to come back and negotiate a strong rental assistance program.
“Furthermore, we believe renter protections are best left to state and local officials who better know their housing markets and can tailor protections to the varied and unique eviction laws and judicial processes across jurisdictions,” he says.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently signed legislation that says tenants cannot be evicted before Feb. 1, 2021, as a result of rent owed due to a COVID-related hardship accrued between March 4 and Aug. 31 if the tenant provides a declaration of hardship according to the legislation’s timelines.
For a COVID-19 related hardship that accrues between Sept. 1, 2020, and Jan. 31, 2021, tenants must also pay at least 25% of the rent due to avoid eviction.
Tenants are still responsible for paying unpaid amounts to landlords, but those unpaid amounts cannot be the basis for an eviction. Landlords may begin to recover this debt on March 1, 2021, and small claims court jurisdiction is temporarily expanded to allow landlords to recover these amounts. Landlords who do not follow the court evictions process will face increased penalties under the bill.
Newsom signed the bill Aug. 31 just as an earlier eviction ban was about to expire.
In Oregon, Gov. Kate Brown also recently extended protections from foreclosure for Oregon homeowners and business owners until Dec. 31. She said she’s also looking at options surrounding a moratorium on evictions for renters.