Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans faced financial hardship and housing insecurity. In an effort to keep people in their homes during the health crisis, the federal government issued andto prevent landlords from evicting tenants who struggled to pay rent.
The nationwide eviction moratorium expired on July 31, 2021. The CDC has since issued a new order halting evictions in counties with high transmission levels of COVID-19. And while this new order will keep many Americans in their homes, others are at risk of eviction. And despite federal orders in place, there are likely to be landlords who still try to evict tenants who are behind on rent. More than 1.4 million Americans expect to be evicted within the next two months, while another 2.2 million say it’s somewhat likely they’ll be evicted, according to the New York Times.
Facing eviction can be both an emotionally and financially stressful time. In this guide, we’ll walk you through all of the options available if you’re facing eviction.
First, apply for rental assistance
In response to the housing insecurity created by the pandemic, Congress allocated more than $46 billion for emergency rental assistance. If you’re struggling to make your rent payments, you can apply for rental assistance to help avoid eviction.
There are more than 492 rental assistance programs around the nation, most of which are still accepting applications. In many cases, tenants can self-attest to their financial hardship and some prioritize tenants who are facing or at risk of eviction.
To learn more about what rental assistance may be available in your area, visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s rental assistance dashboard. It has a list of each of the 492 rental assistance programs, as well as information about who can apply and how.
Find out if your state or city is extending the eviction moratorium
While the nationwide eviction moratorium has ended, millions of Americans are still protected by emergency orders that prevent landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic.
On Aug. 3, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a new emergency order that temporarily halts evictions in counties with high levels of community transmission of COVID-19. The order remains in place through Oct. 3.
Even if you aren’t protected by the CDC’s emergency order, you may still be under an eviction moratorium. A handful of states, including California, Washington, DC, Minnesota, New Jersey and New York have issued eviction moratoriums to protect tenants facing financial hardship during the pandemic.
Read more: Mortgage forbearance and eviction extensions run through Sept. 2021
Here’s what to do if you’re facing eviction but a lawsuit has not been filed
If you’re facing eviction but your landlord hasn’t filed a lawsuit yet, there’s still time to get back on track. First, talk to your landlord and discuss a repayment plan. Some landlords may be willing to work with you on a plan to catch up on past-due rent and may even agree to a temporary or permanent rent reduction moving forward.
“If possible, the tenant needs to try and approach the landlord with a repayment plan that allows them to remain on the property, even after the moratorium ends,” said Jessica Bober, a Florida attorney and legal expert with JustAnswer. “It is best if tenants and landlords work together during these difficult times.”
If you and your landlord do come to an agreement, be sure to get it in writing, as this helps to protect both parties.
Of course, this solution won’t work for everyone. If your rent has become unaffordable and you don’t believe you’ll be able to catch up on payments, looking for more affordable housing may be a better option. Being proactive and finding a solution early can also help protect your credit from the impact of eviction.
Here’s what to do if you’re facing eviction and a lawsuit has been filed
If an eviction lawsuit has been filed against you, the first step is to seek legal assistance. You may qualify for free legal aid depending on your location and income. The American Bar Association has a collection of resources that can help you find the help you need.
Next, if you live in an area that’s protected by the CDC’s current eviction moratorium, be sure to complete and sign the Eviction Protection Declaration. Give the signed declaration to your landlord, and keep a photocopy for your own records.
If an eviction lawsuit has already been filed, then it’s important that you file an answer with the court explaining why you shouldn’t be evicted. If you’re protected by the CDC emergency order, you can explain that in your answer. You can also explain what steps, if any, you’ve taken to rectify the situation, such as agreeing to a repayment plan with your landlord or applying for rental assistance.
While navigating the eviction process, it’s important that you understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as those of your landlord.
“The tenant cannot be forced to vacate unless the landlord has a court order for eviction, and even then, only the sheriff can remove the tenant,” Bober said. “A landlord is not allowed to change the locks, turn off utilities or touch the tenant’s personal property. If one of these instances occurs, then the landlord has committed an illegal eviction.”
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If a judge rules that you can be evicted, it’s important that you make a plan for what happens next. If you’ve hired an attorney, they can help walk you through the eviction process and explain your options.
In some cases, an eviction may be stopped if you’re able to pay the landlord or the court the rent that you owe. If you’re able to secure payment, be sure you also have a plan to cover your rent payments moving forward.
If eviction is unavoidable, there are several additional resources available to help you secure temporary or new housing affordably, including:
“If after exhausting all efforts an eviction is inevitable, then a tenant needs to prepare now for where they will go when the moratorium ends,” Bober said. “Too many tenants have been caught off-guard and left with only 24 or 48 hours to move after the judge signs an eviction court order. Having a plan in place now will help with the transition after being evicted.”
The best way to avoid eviction is to talk to your landlord and ask for help early. You should also explore any rental assistance programs available in your area or begin searching for new housing if you know you won’t be able to afford to stay in your current rental. And when in doubt, turn to free legal and housing resources listed on the ABA website to help guide you through the process.