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Are Landlord Evictions Legal Right Now?

If you’re a landlord, then you’re well aware that governors of several states enacted eviction moratoriums to protect vulnerable tenants during stay-at-home orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, certain metropolitan areas (including Atlanta and Boston) issued moratoriums of their own, while some state Supreme Courts also intervened by issuing emergency orders halting eviction proceedings. In some instances, evictions are allowed at the discretion of lower courts (Missouri, for example).

The federal government also got involved when the Director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an executive order halting certain evictions based on nonpayment of rent. The CDC’s order is much more limited than most state and local moratoriums, requiring tenants to take certain actions to stop the eviction process from moving forward.

These moratoriums are likely to put landlords in a financial and moral bind. While nonpayment of rent can threaten your livelihood, especially in the absence of additional federal relief for small businesses, no one really wants to throw someone out of their home at a time of record-high COVID-19 infection rates. As infections continue to rise and temperatures drop, the health of the economy remains tentative at best. 

It’s a tough time for landlords and tenants, as the novel coronavirus continues to upend life as we know it. Understanding which eviction moratoriums apply to your rental property, when they expire, their scope, and related details will help you make informed, legally defensible decisions. 

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Is there an eviction moratorium that is still active in my property’s state right now?

Most eviction moratoriums that were enacted at the state and local levels have expired. Notable exceptions include California and the City of Boston, both of which have extended moratoriums through the end of 2020 (California’s is set to expire on Feb. 1, 2021). California tenants who submit a sworn affidavit that they suffered a pandemic-related financial hardship between Sept. 1, 2020 and Jan. 31, 2021 may be protected from eviction as long as they’re able to pay 25 percent of their rent.  

Some states have halted or at least limited evictions for nonpayment of rent until the COVID-19 emergency has ended, with no firm deadline set. These states, many of which require proof of substantial income loss due to the pandemic, include:

  • Maryland 
  • Minnesota 
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Vermont

Many states that don’t have a moratorium are offering grants and other forms of financial assistance to tenants who are behind on their rent and facing eviction because of a legitimate hardship. Each state has its own eligibility requirements and processes, but here are some examples:

Keep in mind that this pandemic is a moving target and your state may issue a new moratorium or extend existing ones.  

Is the eviction moratorium only for late rent?

Eviction moratoriums are meant to address the financial hardships many tenants are suffering as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, they generally protect tenants only for the inability to pay rent. In other words, these moratoriums generally don’t prevent you from issuing an Eviction Notice for other causes, such as egregious (or repeated) violations of the contract or illegal activities.

Even if your tenant is protected, however, it’s always a good idea to send them a Late Rent Notice if they fall behind. You also may want to work out a Late Rent Payment Agreement if you believe you and the tenant can compromise on rent payments. 

Isn’t there a federal moratorium on evictions issued by the CDC until the end of this year?

The federal eviction moratorium issued by the CDC covers certain tenants through Dec. 31, 2020, with the goal of slowing the spread of COVID-19 by preventing overcrowding in shelters or other emergency living situations that may follow an eviction. Even if you started the eviction process prior to the CDC’s order, it could halt the process if the affected tenant is eligible. Also, tenants are still responsible for paying any past due rent owed once the moratorium ends.

To be eligible for protection, tenants must hand you a signed declaration form (under penalty of perjury) affirming that they:

  • Expect to earn no more than $99,000 ($198,000 for a couple filing taxes jointly) in 2020, are not required to report income in 2019 to the IRS, or received a stimulus check under the CARES Act.
  • Tried seeking government assistance for rent or housing.
  • Are unable to make full or partial payments because of a substantial loss of household income, loss of work hours or wages, lay-off, or “extraordinary” out-of-pocket medical expenses.
  • Will make a good faith effort to pay all or some of their rent if they have the resources to do so.
  • Would become homeless or have to share a residence unsuitable to meet social distancing requirements if they were evicted.

As a landlord, you’re not required to verify all of this information, but you may require supporting information as a condition of compliance with the moratorium.  

Are there exceptions to the CDC’s eviction moratorium?

There are some exceptions and ambiguities in the moratorium. For one thing, it does not protect tenants who engage in criminal activity, destroy property, cause major or repeated disruptions, or any other behaviors (besides late rent payment) that normally might result in an eviction. Also, the CDC moratorium exempts the owners of motels, hotels, or short term rentals.

Another question mark is how to proceed if, for example, a tenant’s lease is set to expire during the moratorium period. If a landlord who may have wanted to evict a tenant simply chooses not to renew the tenant’s lease because they’re late with the rent, is it technically an eviction? If the tenant stays past the expiration date of the lease because they can’t afford to move elsewhere, is that grounds for an eviction? 

One big concern among landlords is how the moratorium may impact their ability to pay the mortgage on their property or cover other operating expenses. Many of these ambiguities will likely be decided in the courts. 

Before you evict, make sure you understand COVID-era moratoriums

Landlords typically don’t enjoy going through the eviction process, but it’s sometimes a necessary last resort for problem tenants. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of posting an Eviction Notice, just make sure you do it in accordance with the law. If your tenant is unable to pay rent and believes they’re protected by a moratorium, you’ll want to ask an attorney about the law and your legal options.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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