By: Nick Thompson
It’s the first of the month and we know thousands of people around Texas are fearful of being forced into homelessness due to COVID-19. It is estimated that at least 2 out of every 10 Americans have struggled, or failed, to pay their rent since April. Since mid-March, 2.5 million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits. The number of Texans unable to pay their rent due to job losses and health impacts is rising along with evictions, leaving many on the brink of losing their own safe place to quarantine in the middle of a mass pandemic.
In a previous post, we spoke about what to do if you’re facing eviction and because the crisis is only worsening we want to offer a follow-up post.
The federal CARES Act, which passed in early April, froze evictions for renters living in federally subsidized housing or in property backed by government loans. These protections were intended to stabilize renters impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent widespread homelessness. And with the federal eviction moratorium included in the CARES Act set to expire July 25, we will see an even more drastic number of people experiencing housing instability and homelessness.
This soon-to-expire moratorium only covers residents of federally subsidized homes, like those supported by Section 8, the low-income housing tax credit, and other programs funded by HUD, USDA, or the Treasury. It additionally includes a provision suspending new filings for evictions in homes covered by federally backed mortgages. These protections only apply to less than one-third of the country’s 108 million renters, but the Act allowed at least some to remain protected during the pandemic.
But the CARES Act did not create enforcement mechanisms, nor did it specify how tenants or landlords could find out if their property was protected. Since the CARES Act went into effect on March 27, landlords in Texas have been violating it and leaving tenants confused and fearful of what they can do to prevent losing their housing.
As stated in our last blog post, it is important to learn if your housing is protected from eviction under the current CARES Act which supersedes any Texas ruling.
If you view the map and find that your property is not listed, it does not definitively mean your property is not covered. You can also view NLIHC’s tool and check for your property there as well. However, please note that neither database includes single-family rentals with federally backed mortgages and may exclude some multifamily properties.
If you are covered by the CARES Act:
Until July 25th, 2020:
Landlords may not give notices to vacate for nonpayment;
Landlords may not file nonpayment eviction cases; and
Landlords may not charge late fees
Landlord still has to give a 30-day notice on or after July 25th
Most municipal eviction protections have since expired. Texas Law Help includes a list of ones that are still active yet are expiring soon.
Please check your local options here under “Local Halts to Evictions”
Okay, so you may not be covered. What happens now?
Take a deep breath. You are not alone in this.
Research has shown that 1 in 5 renters may be at risk of eviction by September.
Best practices to help fight against your chances of eviction:
Document everything in writing with your landlord including financial hardship due to COVID-19 unemployment or underemployment or other qualifying factors.
You do have the right to ask for a rent reduction, payment plans, or dismissal of fees however your landlord has the right to decline.
Stay in communication and talk to your landlord about what options you have to stay housed and pay your rent.
If you violate the lease or cannot pay rent, this is referred to as a Notification of Termination for Cause:
Your landlord must give you a three-day notice to vacate (unless the lease specifies a shorter or longer period).
If the tenant does not vacate the property within those three days, the tenant can file an eviction lawsuit (also known as a “forcible detainer suit”).
Once a court date is set, make sure that you show up (either in person or virtually depending on the county).
What are landlords not allowed to do during the eviction process:
Landlords cannot remove the tenant from the property without first winning the lawsuit against the tenant.
Landlords cannot cancel a resident’s utilities, remove doors, or windows.
Only law enforcement authorized by the judge who allowed the eviction to occur can remove the tenant from the residence.
Your landlord cannot lock you out of the residence without a court order.
What rights do I have as a tenant facing eviction proceedings?
You have the right to remain in your leased residence until after a court hearing and court order.
You have the right to seek legal assistance. Unlike criminal cases, tenants facing eviction are not given a court-appointed attorney.
Texas Young Lawyers Association created a Tenants’ Rights in Texas packet.
Resources utilized for this post:
Otros recursos en español: