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COVID-19 Eviction Moratoriums

By: Roy Jimenez, Esq.

Keeping Up with the Many Changes

No one has figured out how to evict COVID, but it’s on everyone’s agendas. No one wants to evict tenants who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, but it’s on everyone’s minds—tenants and landlords, states, counties, cities, and communities.  And while it’s easy to think that all landlords are wealthy, deep-pocketed corporations, many are mom-and-pop property owners who are not receiving rent payments but must still make Principal & Interest payments and cover taxes, insurance, etc. Even corporate landlords have obligations: debts, upkeep, repairs, and more that require some offsetting income. COVID has become more than a deadly health problem. Its side-effects have impacted many levels of the socio-economic continuum.

Federal Level

When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) enacted a temporary ban on residential evictions across the United States on September 4, 2020, the idea was to keep approximately 40 million COVID-caused jobless Americans from being removed from their homes and apartments. The moratorium was to have been in force through December 31, 2020, when people hoped the deadly disease would be gone. It was designed to keep people off the streets, thereby reducing the spread of COVID-19.

As of January 11, 2021, the pandemic is still here, and the federal December 31, 2020 deadline has been extended to January 31, 2021. But what about states, counties, and cities? Commercial tenants? On the other side, how do landlords make their P&I payments and cover their insurance, maintenance, tax, and utility bills with no income?

Summary of Other Levels

Things for Tenants to Know Today

The Eviction Moratorium at the federal level had the right idea—to reduce the possibility of spreading COVID-19 by making it illegal to toss people on the streets who couldn’t pay their rent. In actuality, however, there was no specific financial aid package to support the legislation, and in the end, eviction cases would not be handled at a federal court level but rather in state and municipal courts.

The federal eviction moratorium comes with some rules and regulations.  And, very importantly, protection against eviction does not happen automatically. The two-page form for tenants can be found on the CDC Website (with the new Federal 1/31/21 expiration date.) It is for residential purposes only. A renter must fill out this form, sign it, and send it to their landlord for the eviction moratorium to be operative. Experts recommend using both email and hard copy versions sent by certified mail with a backup hard copy to be extra sure.

Things We’d All Like to Know

What protections do landlords have? What about commercial properties? Suppose we had nothing else to do all day.  In that case, we could search down into the residential state, county, and city rules and eviction protections and then try to ascertain commercial property regulations. Tenants and landlords alike will find a mixed bag of political, ethical, health, and financial considerations.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs' by Wesley Fryer is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

It’s complicated, changing daily, and a societal experiment taking place in real-time at the bottom two “Basic Needs” sections of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: Physiological and Safety/Security, making the task difficult and explaining why the rules are fluctuating so swiftly.

For instance, California’s law superseded the federal law in September, stating renters had to start paying at least 25% of their rent moving forward (September 2020 through January 31, 2021) but would not have to immediately pay back rent. Legislation to extend the moratorium and change the rules has been proposed, varying the amount and length of protections, some wanting the moratorium to last through December 31, 2021. Others recommend shorter protection spans, perhaps through June 2021.

Answers and Links in Six Languages

The existing laws are confusing, daunting, and in flux: LA County recently extended protections to February 28, 2021. Because facts are constantly changing, many concerned groups quickly add updated material to the public space to keep pace. For example, the State of California’s HousingIsKey website packs information to help Tenants, Landlords, Homeowners, and Community Partners work through the bewilderment with Protection Guidelines, Forms, and Resources for the state’s stakeholders. Sub-links to other websites and publications in English and Spanish with legal guides in six languages (English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, and Vietnamese) can be found on the site. The Construction/Real Estate section of Marketwatch.com supplies both reporting and analysis at the fly-over level, which is helpful. However, stakeholders in the trenches are finding different city and county protections that supersede California laws in some places, but they are not so cut and dried in others, leaving people in a quandary. Then, what they find might change the very next day.

Landlords and homeowners can apply for possible forbearance if they are backed by Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, etc., to see if they would gain some relief under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021. Non-federally backed lenders would be wise to justify their inflexibility toward granting relief.

Pulling Together

Governments at all levels and private enterprise working together will get us through the eviction moratorium situation and the pandemic itself. Until we’re out of the woods, it is best to check and double-check with the most current laws in your state, counties, and cities by logging in to some of the websites above. Then, it is always safest to ask for legal advice if there are any questions.

‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ by Wesley Fryer is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

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