Earlier this year, states rushed to put a halt to evictions in response to COVID-19. As some states have now begun the process of reopening, the multifamily housing industry may be at a crossroads with evictions. Eviction moratoriums are set to be lifted in several states, with courts scheduled to begin hearing eviction cases later in the month. However, some areas are considering extending eviction moratoriums due to the increase in COVID cases.
Regardless of when courts reopen, the nation will likely see a flood of evictions in the future. If this happens, there will be an influx of rental applicants, so it’s essential to think about how this could affect your rental policies.
In only a matter of months, the rental housing industry has had to make some quick adaptations, including social distancing, eviction court closures, and missed rental payments. If you haven’t revised your written rental criteria since the pandemic started, now is the time. The landscape of the industry is rapidly changing, and your policy should be able to keep up.
In the past, it’s been best to avoid blanket standards on your rental policies to avoid liabilities. These are overly broad statements like, “no evictions” or “no felonies.” Stating “no evictions” has normally been problematic, as it doesn’t factor in differences between state, federal, and county-level laws. In many cases, it can be perceived as anti-renter behavior. This policy is especially important to avoid now, with potentially large numbers of COVID-19 related evictions on the horizon. Here are some reasons why:
It doesn’t look good from a legal perspective
Even if you’ve always had “no evictions” as part of your rental policy, you could be running into legal trouble for denying an applicant based on a COVID-19 eviction. Not to mention, it could damage your property’s reputation. It’s also likely that some states will implement legislation aimed at restricting the use of COVID eviction records for housing.
COVID-19 evictions won’t show you accurate risk
Many applicants who lost their jobs during the pandemic haven’t been able to pay rent. If they end up getting evicted, that doesn’t make them a bad or risky renter. They’re more a victim of circumstances beyond their control. A single eviction caused by missed payments during COVID-19 isn’t an accurate depiction of their rental history, especially if they have a previously perfect record. As long as they meet your income requirements, it’s not likely you’ll need to worry about them being a repeat offender. Using eviction data responsibly
Knowing how to navigate eviction data can be tricky, but here are several things you can start to incorporate into your leasing process right now:
- If you have a blanket statement like “no evictions,” replace it with a specific date-based restriction, such as “no monetary evictions within the past 3 years (with the exception of COVID-19-related evictions).”
- Keep an eye on changes to data restrictions and laws. Over the past few years, many state and local governments have begun restricting the use of eviction and criminal data for housing decisions. You should make sure you’re familiar with the latest laws when reviewing background checks to avoid liability.
- Apply your rental policies equally, every time, to avoid potential claims of discrimination. Arrange consistent training for your staff on your most current rental criteria, as well as how they should uphold it. This could include legal updates and restrictions, policy changes, and other important items.
There’s no way to know for sure when the pandemic will end or how it will continue to reshape the industry, but it’s important to be empathetic right now – and not only to applicants and tenants. Take care to also show empathy for others in the industry, such as staff and peers. These are difficult times; caring for one another is essential. We’ll continue to assist you with your tenant screening needs and keep you posted with the latest industry updates.