“This is a cliff we don’t have to go over,” said David M. Dworkin, chief executive of the National Housing Conference, which has advocated for billions of dollars in rental assistance.
Of the 110 million Americans living in rental households, 20 percent are at risk of eviction by Sept. 30, according to an analysis by the Covid-19 Eviction Defense Project, a Colorado-based community group. African American and Hispanic renters are expected to be hit hardest.
Here are some common questions for renters struggling amid the pandemic:
What should I do if I can’t pay my rent?
Renters unable to pay should immediately alert their landlords. Housing advocates and property owners agree this is the best first step. Landlords are typically more willing to negotiate with tenants who contact them quickly, rather than those who hunker down and stay quiet, they say.
“A lot of landlords are willing to work with people in this situation. They would rather keep a tenant who can pay less than try to get someone new in,” said Shamus Roller, executive director of the National Housing Law Project.
Some property managers are waiving late fees or providing other types of help, said Bob Pinnegar, chief executive of the National Apartment Association, but it depends on their finances. Property managers “are helping when and where they can, but they must take in enough revenue to ensure that the property remains financially viable,” he said.
Can I be evicted?
Congress passed a national moratorium that has shielded about one-third of renters from eviction since late March. The renters protected under this moratorium live in buildings or homes with a mortgage that has some form of government backing.
That moratorium expired July 24, but renters have a little time. Landlords are required to give renters 30 days’ notice before filing an eviction complaint in court. That means the eviction paperwork won’t be filed until late August.
Some renters are also covered by a patchwork of state and local eviction bans that don’t end until August or September. Renters should contact local housing groups and tenant rights organizations to determine whether they are covered by a local moratorium.
Princeton University’s Eviction Lab maintains a Covid-19 Housing Policy Scorecard that includes some information about local moratoriums.
Once the moratoriums end, do I owe the rent payments I missed?
Yes, the moratorium prevents landlords from evicting tenants, but the rent continues to accumulate. However, depending on the type of moratorium, landlords may be prevented from charging late fees or other penalties to delinquent renters.
Some states and cities have set up local rental-assistance programs to help tenants cover their missed payments. Austin, for example, distributed $1.2 million in an emergency rental relief fund in May, helping about 1,600 of the 11,000 who applied. In July, it announced another $17 million program.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition is tracking local rental-assistance programs here.
There’s a pandemic. Do I still have to show up in court if my landlord files for eviction?
Yes, eviction court hearings are still going on in pockets of the country. In some cases, judges are allowing renters and landlords to attend hearings by phone or video conferencing. Others are holding in-person hearings and attempting to maintain social distancing within the courtrooms.
“If you have a notice to appear, pay attention” and read all the court paperwork carefully, said Roller of the National Housing Law Project. If a tenant does not appear for a scheduled hearing, the judge can grant a default order against them, allowing the landlord to move forward with the eviction, he said.
Many renters leave their homes as soon as they receive an eviction notice, but that may not be necessary, housing advocates say. There is a huge backlog of cases across the country that could take months to get through, they say.
Should I get legal help?
Eviction laws are complicated and can differ by state, city and courthouse. For renters unfamiliar with the process, finding an attorney could be helpful.
A legal aid attorney may be able to help a renter determine whether the landlord is violating any federal programs. For example, the Federal Housing Finance Agency granted additional relief for property owners with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, allowing them to temporarily skip some payments.
Those landlords were barred from filing eviction complaints or charging late fees while receiving that help. But it may be difficult for a renter to determine what protections should cover them without legal help, housing advocates say.
Many legal-aid attorneys work pro bono or for a small fee and can be found on LawHelp.org or through a local housing rights group.
Will there be more help for renters?
It’s unclear whether Congress will step in to offer more help to renters.
Some Democrats have called for a $100 billion national rental-assistance program, and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has unveiled a sweeping housing plan that would ban evictions and foreclosures for a year, while giving tenants up to 18 months to pay back missed payments. But neither idea has gained traction with Senate Republicans.
Housing advocates say they are hopeful, arguing it is the only way to avoid a major crisis in the rental market. Either Congress gets ahead of the problem and establishes a rental assistance program now or waits until an emergency emerges, said Dworkin of the National Housing Conference. If Congress waits, he said, the resulting crisis could cause widespread devastation to communities throughout the country.
Concerned about the end of the federal eviction moratorium? Have additional questions you’d like to see addressed in this FAQ or others? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org