States and counties across the country have begun the slow process of lifting COVID-19 self-distancing measures. Despite this, there still remain many areas where shelter in place orders and social distancing remain in effect. Jobs continue to lay off employees and unemployment claims continue to rise in unprecedented numbers. Most states and counties have enacted some form of moratorium on rent and evictions to counter the rising numbers of the unemployed, but we can’t help but wonder, what happens when the moratoriums are lifted?
According to Xochitl Maykovich, political director of the Washington Community Action Network, tenants have greater protections now than they did a year ago. Previously, landlords were required to give tenants a 14-day “pay or quit” notice, which meant they would have to pay their rent or leave the apartment to avoid eviction. Prior to 2019, tenants had a window of three days.
While it may seem like the current moratorium grants a free pass for tenants to stop paying rent, its purpose is to allow time for assistance programs to take effect. In a two-week period, the U.S. recorded 10 million first-time unemployment applications, far exceeding the previous record set by the 2008-2009 financial crisis. This large number of applicants has overwhelmed federal and state systems, causing technical delays.
While the first few rounds of payments from the $2 trillion stimulus package have started hitting people’s bank accounts, it will take a while for them all to go through. Individuals who have lost their job and make under $75,000 will receive a $1200 payment with an additional $600 to their unemployment check. This should hopefully give everyone a little more financial breathing room, but again, it may take time.
What Does All Of This Mean?
Essentially, the moratorium is in place to buy time for renters to continue to stay housed while the government can initiate rent relief programs. “We’ve never had to do rent relief on this scale, and even before this, there wasn’t enough to meet the need for rent relief that existed,” Maykovich said. Without rent relief, tenants who have become unemployed recently could become thousands of dollars in debt once the moratorium is lifted – along with facing a 14-day eviction notice.
Edmund Witter, and attorney with the Housing Justice Project, said the number of potential evictions was his largest concern only weeks ago; in the ever-changing world of COVID-19, this concern has been replaced by illegal conduct revolving around stimulus checks. The organization has received multiple reports of one landlord who tried to make tenants give them their entire stimulus check to prevent future eviction – even though the moratorium is still in place.
Many problems are stemming from the fact that laws are changing rapidly. This makes it difficult for landlords and tenants alike to know what is or isn’t legal. The federal government, state governments, and even individual cities have passed eviction moratoriums, but the rules vary greatly. On a federal level, the eviction prohibition applies only to government-insured properties, which makes up approximately 40-50% of the market.
Unfortunately, no matter how much you like your tenants and want to keep them, the fact that they lost their livelihoods doesn’t negate the bills and mortgages you have due. Coupled with rules and regulations that change almost daily, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest developments in the rental housing industry. While property tax and mortgage deferments are available, it’s not helpful for every landlord’s unique situation. Landlords are going to need some form of relief in order to be able to extend relief to their tenants. Hopefully, it will be enacted – and soon.
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