COVID-19 has caused a wide range of government responses concerning renter’s rights – and they’ve varied greatly depending on where a rental property is located. On the most extreme end, you have California, where state legislators proposed a bill that would reduce rent by 25% and ban evictions until 2022. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some cities like Philadelphia and Houston have created rent relief programs to send rent checks directly to rental property owners. Here’s a look at some of the most recent rent protection responses to be aware of.
California’s proposed AB 828 has been revised to remove the 25% rent reduction; as the bill currently stands, it would prohibit foreclosures and suspend the sale of tax-defaulted rental properties during the COVID-19 state of emergency (including 15 days after the state of emergency has ended). County recorders would be prohibited from issuing a notice of default, sale or a trustee’s deed upon sale, as long as the state of emergency is in place. Additionally, it would ban courts from accepting a complaint in a foreclosure action.
The second part of AB 828 would halt evictions during the state of emergency. Courts and county sheriffs would be prohibited from accepting unlawful detainer actions or executing a writ of possession. If a tenant isn’t able to keep up with rent payments due to COVID-19, the court could require them to make monthly payments, which would start at the beginning of the following calendar month. If this bill is passed, it would remain in effect until January 1st, 2022.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia passed the Coronavirus Omnibus Emergency Amendment Act of 2020 on May 5th, which was signed into law on May 13. This act requires property owners with 5 or more rental units to create a rent payment plan for eligible tenants who have been affected by the state of emergency. The act also adds additional restrictions for eviction filings, commercial rent increases, and amenity changes.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order that allows renters to request that their security deposits be used to make up any rent balance that’s past due. If rental property owners agree and use the security deposit for rent, they are prohibited from requesting an additional security deposit for at least 6 months after the state of emergency has ended, or until the lease has ended.
Renter Relief Programs
There has also been a push for renter relief programs for tenants who have been unable to pay rent due to COVID-19, although they remain fairly limited at this time. Here are a few state and local governments that have created such programs:
Hawaii’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides Hawaiian citizens who have lost income due to COVID-19 with up to 6 months of rental assistance, as well as funds for a security deposit. To be eligible, the applicants must be native Hawaiians, on the Department of Hawaiian Home Land’s housing waiting list, and have a household income that’s 80% or less of the federal median income. Hawaii is also offering financial assistance for mortgage payments.
Philadelphia’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program will make direct rent payments to rental property owners for approximately 3,000 households. The payments cannot exceed $2,500 over three months. In addition, the renters must have made rent payments prior to April. Landlord recipients of the payments must agree that they won’t evict their renters for at least 6 months after the rental assistance payments have ended.
Houston approved a $15 million rental assistance program that began on May 7th. Rental property owners are required to enroll in the program online, at HoustonRentAssistance.org; after they’ve enrolled, tenants can apply to receive the funds. In order to qualify, rental property owners must waive all late fees and penalties that were accrued in April and May. For renters to qualify, they must be current on rent payments up until the month of April and have a median income of approximately $40,000 if single, or $60,000 for a family of four. The estimated rental assistance payment amount could be up to $1,056 per month.
Restrictions on evictions, rent increases, and late fees
Starting in March, many areas placed bans on late fees, rent increases, and evictions due to COVID-19. Since the virus continues to spread and affect the economy, it’s likely many of these areas will extend their restrictions; some local governments, like Baltimore and New York, have already taken action to expand on their current restrictions.
The situation with COVID-19 is constantly evolving. As the year progresses and federal and local governments continue to respond to the pandemic, it’s likely we’ll see expanded support for COVID-19 rental assistance, as well as extended rent and eviction protections. Since things continue to change rapidly, it’s best to keep a close eye on the latest laws affecting your rental properties to make sure you’re aware of any new regulations, expanded regulations, or opportunities for aid for you or your tenants.
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