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Some eviction filings resume in D.C.

A signs hangs from the window of an apartment building during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic last year in Northwest Washington. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Some eviction filings for nonpayment of rent will resume Tuesday in D.C., as the city winds down a moratorium on evictions that helped keep thousands of renters in their homes for more than a year and a half.

Beginning Tuesday, landlords will be able to move forward with eviction filings in cases where tenants owe at least $600 and the landlord has applied for rental relief funds from the District’s Stronger Together by Assisting You (STAY) program. That means either the landlord applied but the tenant failed to provide required information, or the relief money did not cover the full overdue balance.

“Starting tomorrow and into the new year we can be sure cases will be filed,” said Amanda Korber, a supervising attorney with the housing unit at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. But both advocates for tenants and landlords are not sure whether filings will really pick up this week, in part because tenants are still requesting relief from STAY DC, which also assists them with paying utility bills.

“We don’t know how many applications may still be pending,” Korber said. “It’s a bit of an unknown.”

The restart of some eviction filings this week is part of a larger phasing out of protections that were put in place in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

The eviction moratorium, which began in March 2020, was tied to the public health emergency triggered by the virus. The regulations — among the strictest in the country — halted all eviction filings and the physical removal of tenants.

More than half a billion dollars went to keeping D.C. area renters in their homes ahead of federal deadline

This past July, however, the D.C. Council passed legislation creating a step-by-step plan for restarting evictions in the city.

As of Aug. 24, landlords have been permitted to file eviction cases in situations where the tenant is a threat to the health and safety of other tenants or causing significant damage to the property. Beginning Jan. 1, full evictions of tenants can move forward under 10 criteria.

The phaseout has created confusion among landlords, which could also affect the number of new filings, advocates say.

Dean Hunter, CEO of the Small Multifamily Owners Association, said that although allowing eviction filings for nonpayment to begin again grants landlords some legal relief, the requirements under D.C.’s plan create more boxes for property owners to check.

“It is just another explosion in the regulatory minefield that has been set up to make it difficult for housing providers to access the court,” Hunter said. “This is going to be burdensome to be a housing provider.”

Hunter said the phaseout schedule just increases the cost of doing business for small landlords. “It is even challenging for experienced landlord and tenant lawyers to navigate the process,” he said. “It is impossible for small landlords then to represent themselves in court.”

The resumption of eviction filings tied to application for rental relief funding comes as the District has spent 73 percent of the its share of $200 million in Emergency Rental Assistance from the federal government, city officials told The Washington Post last week.

The city had until the end of the last fiscal year to spend at least 65 percent of its federal allotment or risk having to return some of the money. Now that the District has met that deadline, officials are hopeful the city will be eligible to receive more funds.

But what troubles housing advocates and attorneys moving forward is whether that aid will come soon enough to keep people in their homes as winter approaches.

“People are still out of work,” Korber said. “Enhanced unemployment insurance just ended. Even if a family gets rental relief, it’s unclear if that will be enough to get them through without being evicted.”

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