December is the last month that a national eviction moratorium will stop tenants from being evicted from their homes for failure to pay rent. If protections aren’t renewed or replaced before, the country’s 43 million rental households will no longer be protected against eviction come Jan. 1. Without a or to extend protections, the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates as many as 19 million people in 6.7 million households are at risk of being evicted when the calendar flips to 2021.
In the meantime, even the protections that are currently in force are not necessarily enough to save everyone from eviction. Some judges have refused to accept the current moratorium and allowed evictions to proceed anyway. In other situations, landlords have figured out loopholes by filing evictions for infractions other than not paying rent, like barking dogs or smoking, or by not renewing tenants’ leases.
It doesn’t help that the current eviction ban requires renters who’ve fallen behind on their rent to submit a signed declaration form to their landlord stating they’ve lost income due to theand have made an effort to look for financial assistance, as well as a few other conditions. (This part is critical, more below.) Landlords can challenge the truthfulness and accuracy of those statements and some landlords’ lawyers have gone so far as to challenge tenants with perjury charges.
Some states and cities continue to have their own eviction bans on the books (here’s an up-to-date list). A few offer more protection than the federal eviction moratorium, but many have let their laws expire. We’ll dig into the national eviction moratorium to unpack who is covered, what might not be covered and what you need to do now if you’re worried about getting evicted. Plus, we’ll take a look at what other resources and options are available to help you stay in your home. This story was recently updated.
What the national eviction ban does and doesn’t do
The current national eviction moratorium was ordered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention using a 1944 public health law intended to curb the spread of a pandemic. Because homelessness can increase the spread of COVID-19, the order halts evictions across the US for anyone who has lost income due to the pandemic and has fallen behind on rent.
The federal mandate doesn’t prohibit late fees (although), nor does it let tenants off the hook for any back rent they owe. It also doesn’t establish any kind of financial assistance fund to help renters get caught up, a safeguard some say is critical to preventing a massive wave of evictions when the ban eventually lifts. (Many cities and states, however, have set aside money to help with rent — keep reading for how to find assistance where you live.)
The order only halts evictions for not paying rent. Lease violations for other infractions — criminal conduct, becoming a nuisance, etc. — are still enforceable with eviction. And it only protects renters who earn less than $99,000 per year or $198,000 for joint filers. Finally, renters must print and sign an affidavit declaring their eligibility for protections (the next section breaks down those requirements).
How to qualify for the eviction moratorium. Start by signing this paperwork
The CDC’s order requires renters facing eviction to meet five requirements, which they must declare, under penalty of perjury, by copying or printing, signing and delivering an affidavit to their landlord.
You can download a copy of the affidavit here (PDF). The five qualifications are, in brief:
- You’ve used “best efforts” to look for financial assistance.
- You don’t expect to earn more than $99,000 in 2020 (or no more than $198,000 if filing jointly).
- You can’t pay your full rent amount because of lost income or “extraordinary” medical expenses.
- You’ve tried to pay as much of your rent in as timely a manner as you can.
- If evicted, you would likely become homeless and have to live in a shelter or some other crowded place.
It’s not yet entirely clear what happens if your landlord chooses to challenge or deny your declaration. The New York Times spoke to both legal experts and government officials who helped draft the order, and they suggest it could be up to a housing court to decide whether you qualify or not. If your landlord challenges your request, they recommend providing “‘reasonable’ specifics to prove your eligibility.” That could include bank statements and other documents.
What to do if you’re facing financial hardship right now
If you’re in need of immediate shelter or emergency housing, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development maintains a state-by-state list of housing organizations in your area. Select your state from the drop-down menu for a list of resources near you.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, many states and cities have expanded their available financial assistance for those who are struggling to pay rent. To see what programs might be available near you, find your state on this list of rent relief programs maintained by the National Low Income Housing Association.
Nonprofit 211.org connects those in need of help with essential community services in their area and has a specific portal for pandemic assistance. If you’re having trouble with your food budget or paying your housing bills, you can use 211.org’s online search tool or dial 211 on your phone to talk to someone who can try to help.
JustShelter.org is a nonprofit that puts tenants facing eviction in touch with local organizations that can help them to remain in their homes or, in worst-case scenarios, find emergency housing.
The online legal services chatbot at DoNotPay.com has athat it says will identify which of the laws, ordinances and measures covering rent and evictions apply to you based on your location.
If you’re seriously delinquent or know you will be soon, you may want to consult a lawyer to better understand how laws in your area apply to your situation. Legal Aid provides attorneys free of charge to qualified clients who need help with civil matters such as evictions. You can locate the nearest Legal Aid office using this search tool.
If you can no longer afford rent on your current home, relocation might be an option. Average rental prices have declined across the US since February, according to an August report by Zillow. Apps like Zillow, Trulia and Zumper can help you find something more affordable. Just be aware that you may still be held responsible for any back rent you currently owe as well as any rent that accrues between now and the end of your lease (if you have one), whether or not you vacate.
Ask your landlord for a rent reduction or extension
In almost all instances it’s probably best to work out an arrangement with your landlord or leasing agency, if at all possible. Although some landlords have reportedly reacted to the pandemic by putting even more pressure on tenants to pay up, other landlords have risen to the occasion, some going so far as to stop collecting rent payments for a period of time.
It may be worth approaching your landlord to see if you can pay less rent in the coming months, or spread payments for the next couple of months’ rent out over the next year. Just be wary of landlords who make excessive demands. For example, some have asked tenants to turn over their $1,200 stimulus check or any money received from charity as a condition for not filing an eviction order. Don’t agree to unreasonable conditions or terms you won’t be able to meet, especially if your city or state has enacted protections against such arrangements.