WHAT DOES EVICTION MORATORIUM MEAN?
COVID-19 has put Americans into financially stressful situations across the board. With so many businesses closing and people being out of work, both renters and homeowners are finding themselves unable to satisfy their rent or mortgage payments.
To prevent people from becoming homeless during the pandemic, and to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has issued an eviction moratorium.
The order was signed into action on September 4th, 2020, and is expected to expire on March 31st of this year (though it may be extended). The order itself prevents landlords from evicting tenants who are unable to pay rent due to pandemic-induced financial hardship.
While this order is understandable, it means different things for landlords than it does for renters. Renters who are unable to make their rent payments are safe from being evicted, but what are landlords expected to do when tenants are willfully withholding their rent payments in an effort to seek protection under an order not written for them?
Let’s take a closer look at what’s currently covered in the eviction moratorium, and what landlords can and cannot do while the order is in effect.
FEDERAL EVICTION MORATORIUM COVERAGE
The eviction moratorium was designed to protect individuals and families that are in a vulnerable position as a result of the pandemic. These are people who ordinarily would make regular rent payments had it not been for the loss of income they’re currently experiencing.
While it’s easy to understand why some families need this coverage until they’re able to return to work, it’s also important to be aware that the eviction moratorium does not apply to every renter that stops paying their housing costs each month.
In order for a renter to be covered by the CDC’s moratorium, tenants must have fulfilled the listed requirements:
- The tenant(s) must have tried to obtain all possible means of receiving government assistance to help pay rent.
- They must expect to make less than $99,000 as a single person or $198,000 as a couple in 2020.
- If the tenant was not required to file taxes in 2019, he or she is also covered.
- The tenant(s) must be unable to make full rent payments due to loss of income or unforeseen medical expenses.
- The tenant(s), upon eviction, would likely be homeless or forced into close quarters with others as a result of the eviction.
What Does Eviction Moratorium Mean?
Landlords should know that the eviction moratorium does not excuse tenants from making rent payments. They are not essentially living rent-free. Once tenants are able to work again, they’re expected to make up the rent payments they’ve missed. The moratorium does not erase rent debts, it simply prevents landlords from evicting vulnerable people.
That said, the moratorium does not protect every tenant from eviction. If a landlord suspects that they have a tenant who is electing to withhold rent payments by choice (meaning that they have not been impacted by COVID-19 and are therefore not covered under the order), the landlord has the right to dispute the rent withholdings.
WHAT EVICTIONS CAN STILL TAKE PLACE?
The current moratorium protects tenants that have stopped paying rent due to losing income and/or incurring unexpected medical expenses.
Tenants who have not been impacted and are willfully withholding rent payments that they could make are not protected under the order. However, landlords suspecting that the tenant is not covered is not enough evidence to make it so. A court has to determine that the tenant is not covered under the order.
Landlords have the right to dispute the tenant’s claim of coverage in order to place the eviction decision into the court’s hands.
Tenants who are engaging in illegal activities or creating a hostile environment for other tenants are not protected under the order and can be evicted.
Landlords are not legally required to inform tenants about their coverage under the eviction moratorium, however, a tenant not knowing about the order does not strip them of their coverage. Whether the tenant is aware of their coverage does not give the landlord the right to evict them.
Fine Details About the Moratorium
As it currently stands, the moratorium is in effect until the end of March. However, it’s important for landlords to keep an eye on any updates that may be introduced. Depending on further pandemic-related issues, the moratorium may be extended until later in the year.
Should the moratorium expire at the end of March, evictions can start taking place. Keep in mind that this does not mean landlords can’t initiate the eviction process (in most states). Usually, the eviction process can be started even during the moratorium, but evictions will not be enforced until after the order has expired.
Depending on a landlord’s state of operation, he or she may be permitted to charge late fees for missed rent payments. However, landlords should carefully consider this step before deciding to charge tenants late fees. If a tenant typically pays their rent on time and was suddenly made unable due to the pandemic, it may not be in a landlord’s best interest to charge late fees.
Charging an ordinarily great tenant late fees for issues that are completely out of their hands might convince them to rent elsewhere when they’re able, which opens landlords to the possibility of renting to much less ideal tenants in the future.
Should a landlord decide to pursue late fees for missed rent payments, he or she must first check their legal documents to ensure that they’re allowed to do so. If rent agreements allow it, ensure that the landlord’s state of operation has not banned late fees.
Several states have introduced their own set of eviction laws as a response to the pandemic. Generally, these state-specific laws are more stringent than the federal moratorium, so landlords hoping for a break in their state are unlikely to find looser regulations in their locality.
For example, California and Maryland have suspended eviction hearings until after the order expires, but eviction notices can still be given. Texas and Florida do not allow landlords to even file eviction claims until after the order expires, though eviction notices can still be posted. New York has suspended every phase of the eviction process, including the ability to post notices.
It is in a landlord’s best interest to continuously check the eviction laws in their state of operation. Laws are subject to change depending on how the pandemic continues to affect the country.
Though these are complicated times, landlords are responsible for staying up to date with new laws as they emerge.
ADVICE FOR LANDLORDS/INVESTORS
Landlords and real estate investors are understandably struggling as well during the pandemic, but there are a couple of steps they can take to come out of the pandemic ahead of eviction and foreclosure schedules.
It’s a good idea for investors and landlords alike to amp up their marketing strategies in preparation for the wave that’s likely to hit the housing market. On one end, newly evicted individuals will be looking for competitively priced housing available, and motivated sellers will be looking to prevent home foreclosures.
A well-prepared investor/landlord will be worlds ahead of the competition if they take the time to welcome new tenants or sellers before others in their industry do.
Remember to be respectful and sensitive to the unique circumstances that these individuals will be facing. People will be more willing to work with investors and landlords that present them with a solution to their struggles, rather than pressuring them into situations that are not mutually beneficial.
Market your business in a way that attracts people who are looking for a fresh start when coming out of pandemic-induced closures. Start advertising early so that your business will be the first thing people see when they’re looking for real estate solutions.
Individuals and small businesses alike have struggled significantly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and though landlords and investors are trying to recover their businesses after the eviction moratorium expires, it’s still highly important to conduct their practices with human beings in mind.
Profits come most easily when people see that a business genuinely cares about how people are going to continue affording their basic needs following a stressful, difficult situation. By appealing to the needs of potential tenants and motivated sellers, you can recoup some of the losses your business experienced during the pandemic once the order is lifted.