Most people have lived through hard financial times, many have gone through serious illnesses, and a significant number have faced a looming rent due date with little or no money to their name. But to suddenly face all three of these hardships at once at the hands of something like the coronavirus pandemic is a triple challenge few of us could’ve ever seen coming.
What exactly is expected of us when it comes to basics like paying our monthly rent on time? While new, varied information is coming out in every state almost every day, we have been able to identify a few common threads:
The Good News — For Some
Almost immediately after issuing a national social distancing order, the federal government also issued a 120-day moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing or from properties with federally backed mortgage loans. That’s fine except it only covers only about 12.3 million (28 percent) of the 43.8 million total rental units in the United States. In short, unless you fall into this group, you’re part of the 72 percent of renters that’s more or less in limbo.
More Good News — For a Few More
Frustrated by the lack of widespread renter protection included in California Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency response, several weeks ago Los Angeles County officials proclaimed a suspension on all no-fault residential and commercial evictions, starting retroactively on March 4th and lasting until May 31st. These tenants will have six months after May 31st, 2020, to pay for lost rent and avoid eviction.
A recent USA TODAY analysis also revealed that as of March 17th, no less than 34 states had issued broader moratoriums on evictions, either through administrative actions taken by governors or orders authorized by state supreme courts. But renter protection still varies greatly across the country. Some states are only blocking evictions for a few weeks. Other eviction bans will last only as long as a specific state is deemed to be in an official state of emergency. Still another group of states bars evictions altogether, but only if the tenant has officially been diagnosed with coronavirus or lost a job based on the diagnosis.
Payouts and Pathos
Rather than waiving rent payments or banning evictions, a few other states are kicking in cash to help people stay current with their rent payments. Delaware Democratic Governor John Carney followed up his eviction ban during his state’s emergency status by giving renters who lost income based on the pandemic up to $1,500 to pay their rent.
Four states have thus far taken partial measures for rent relief, but it has only proven to cause more confusion than help in at least one of them. The Florida Supreme Court issued an order that could limit evictions in the state, but its ambiguity has caused confusion among county clerks and landlords alike. One clear example of the misunderstanding, as reported by the Brandenton Herald, was when property managers at Robin’s Apartments sent a letter to renters stating: “If you think that you don’t have to pay rent because of the pandemic, you are mistaken.” To further confuse the situation, at the same time, Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis had not announced any eviction moratorium for his state’s residents.
Shevrin Jones, a Democratic state representative from West Park, Florida, confirmed the concerns of his constituents. “We have received the emails, we have received the text messages of people who are afraid and who are scared because they don’t know what the next day will bring,” he said during a video call pushing for DeSantis to address the needs of the state’s renters.
And Then There Were 12
As of a few days ago, 12 states had taken no actions related to renter evictions. Two of those states have Democratic governors and 10 are lead by Republicans. Of course, any of those situations could change at any time.
The most heavily populated of those 12 states is Georgia. Residents there initiated an online petition imploring Republican Governor Brian Kemp to issue a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic. The petition has more than 20,000 signatures so far, but no relief has been offered. Elsewhere, Colorado Democratic Governor Jared Polis has recommended his state’s landlords not to evict renters, but has not sanctioned explicit edicts to prevent them from doing so. A legal defense firm has volunteered to do what they can to help Colorado renters prevent eviction.
If your state is offering little or no assistance in fighting evictions, many local resources may provide helpful information on the subject and point out options you may not have considered. NOLO has many links to help California renters, and smaller sites like this one are popping up in many cities across the country to offer assistance and help everyone get through this crisis without breaking the bank.