If your earn $99,000 or less annually ($198,000 if you are a couple filing jointly), are willing to certify you are unable to pay your rent because of the coronavirus, are “likely to become homeless” if you are evicted from your home, and can honestly declare (via a government form) that you have undertaken “your best effort to obtain other government assistance” to make your rent, then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will step in on your behalf until the end of 2020. Yesterday, effective immediately, the CDC enacted a sweeping, nationwide ban on evictions of individuals who meet the above criteria. The ban extends to December 31, 2020.
CDC Authority Extends to Housing Process
If you think the CDC is overstepping its bounds, you’re not alone. Jon Saraché, a spokesperson for the Colorado Judicial Department, says that his state will likely continue to accept eviction cases in court and allow judges to determine whether or not the tenant facing eviction should qualify for protection under the eviction ban. He said that eliminating the case process altogether “could be an infringement on the rights of the landlord”.
Drew Hamrick, general counsel for the Colorado Apartment Association, expressed concern that many tenants will simply stop paying rent, believing they are protected from eviction and will not owe back rent. Hamrick warned that landlords could find themselves unable to pay their own mortgages and tenants could face financial ruin in January 2021, when the sum of missed rents comes due.
“[The CDC] has kind of painted itself into a corner. The only way they can prevent disaster is to come up with some kind of [financial] relief to replace the income stream. Renters and property owners need greater relief,” Hamrick said. Other renters advocates agree with Hamrick, although they tend to support rent forgiveness or cancellation rather than just a delay.
Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, called the moratorium an “essential, half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed.” The Trump Administration has responded to these concerns by saying that renters and landlords have access to emergency funds “already in place, including billions of dollars in grants” from HUD and $142 billion from a coronavirus relief fund from the U.S. Treasury.
Renters Have to Apply for Protection & Provide Proof of Attempts to Pay
The details of the eviction ban, which is an “agency order” from the CDC, may be found in an “unpublished” document available on the federal register. The document is scheduled for publication on September 4, 2020, even though the ban went into effect yesterday. The document includes background on the coronavirus, cites 174,000 deaths due to the disease in the United States, and describes the infection process in detail. The CDC concluded in the document that COVID-19 “presents a historic threat to public health” and “further action is needed” in response.
The document also makes the case that essentially anything that might prevent social distancing, including homelessness and living with family or others in a close and shared space, should fall under CDC jurisdiction and, as such, the agency has the right to invoke the eviction ban. Renters must sign a declaration form indicated they have exhausted all options for making rent payments and that they are at risk of homelessness if they are evicted.
Notably, the document states: “This order does not relieve any individual of any obligation to pay rent, make a housing payment, or comply with any other obligation that the individual may have under a tenancy, lease, or similar contract. Nothing in this order precludes the charging or collecting of fees, penalties, or interest as a result of the failure to pay rent or other housing payment on a timely basis, under the terms of any applicable contract.” It is this verbiage that is likely leading courts in Colorado to accept eviction cases and permit judges to determine if households have met the criteria necessary to qualify for the ban.
“The devil is really in the details,” said Tom Olson, CEO of a Indiana-based Olson Property Services, a property management company that provides full services to turnkey rental investors. “Most of our landlords are doing everything they can already to create payment plans for tenants who are truly affected, but many residents are taking advantage of the situation.” Olson added he “applauds” the CDC for “trying to come up with a way to help those most affected by the virus” but that he hopes they also “figure out a way to get help to the landlords”.
Do you think the CDC’s eviction ban is the right way to handle COVID-19 spread?
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