The social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus have had a devastating effect on the economy, manifesting in reduced hours, layoffs, and furloughs. If you are a renter, you may have had a difficult time making rent payments. Since removing people from their homes is counterproductive to controlling the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent.
Tenants who present their landlord with a CDC Declaration, stating they are unable to pay their rent because of the pandemic, may be protected from eviction. However, there is some confusion about how this moratorium intersects with other federal and state eviction orders and procedures. We will help you get a better handle on your rights as a tenant during this difficult time.
Questions about the coronavirus pandemic?
Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.
Can I be evicted during the pandemic?
Yes. Regardless of any COVID-related federal, state, or local protections from eviction, none of them will protect you from eviction for reasons such as destruction of property, criminal activity, or anything other than the inability to pay rent. Even then, you must prove your nonpayment of rent is related to economic disruptions caused by COVID-19.
Who is protected from eviction under the federal eviction moratorium?
There have been several extensions of the federal eviction moratorium since the first one was enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economy Security (CARES) Act. The current federal moratorium ends on June 30, 2021. Additionally, many states have enacted eviction moratoriums or halted evictions already underway.
The original CARES Act moratorium applied only to renters in properties receiving certain types of federal assistance or subject to a federally backed loan, but the CDC issued an order expanding the moratorium for all residential properties. State and local eviction prohibitions and other types of tenant relief may not be more restrictive to tenants than the CDC order, but may provide additional protections. Still, state implementation of the federal moratorium has varied from court to court with how landlords may proceed (or not proceed) with evictions.
To be eligible for protection under the CDC order, you must affirm the following:
- You have pursued all available government rental and housing assistance, to the best of your knowledge;
- You expect to earn no more than $99,000 in annual income between 2020 and 2021, weren’t required to report any income in 2020 to the IRS, or received a stimulus check as part of the CARES Act;
- You are unable to pay your full rent because of financial hardship;
- You are making your best effort to make timely partial rent payments;
- You would be homeless or without viable housing options if you were evicted;
- You recognize you will still owe back rent and may be responsible for late fees even if you are protected from eviction; and
- You recognize you may be responsible for paying what you owe in full, and may be evicted, once the moratorium ends.
Whether you are ineligible for eviction protection or just concerned about how to pay your back rent, your landlord may be amenable to working out a rent payment plan.
What is a CDC Declaration?
A CDC Eviction Declaration Form is a signed statement affirming that you meet the eligibility criteria listed above. If you do not meet the criteria but sign the declaration anyway, you may face a charge of perjury. Generally, tenants who present this declaration to their landlords are protected against eviction for nonpayment of rent as long as it is due to a legitimate financial hardship, such as job loss or costs related to a medical emergency or illness.
Only a few states issued clear guidelines for implementing the CDC declaration, while individual courts within some states have provided guidance. For instance, landlords in Texas are required to provide a copy of the CDC declaration form to at-risk tenants prior to starting the eviction process. Alaska, meanwhile, put together a self-help FAQ web page to help tenants understand the CDC moratorium and how it is applied.
What should I know before filling out the CDC Declaration?
The first thing you should know about the CDC declaration is that it is legally binding. If you fudge the facts or blatantly disregard any of the seven eligibility criteria, you could be charged with perjury in addition to being evicted. It is also up to you to be proactive and present the form to your landlord if you believe you are eligible for protection. Also, if you file your taxes jointly, then your household must earn no more than $198,000 annually (based on most recent tax records).
Once you have presented the signed declaration to your landlord, you may be protected by the federal order assuming you have met all the eligibility criteria. How your landlord proceeds from there may vary by state law or the rules of the local court.
Can I use the CDC Declaration if my landlord has already filed for eviction?
The CDC order does not specify exactly when tenants must present their landlord with a Declaration. However, the Declaration should stop the finalization of an eviction (up to removal) that has already begun. This includes eviction filings that were started prior to the CDC’s order on September 4, 2020. The bottom line is that you should be protected by the CDC eviction moratorium as long as you are still living in your rental unit and meet the criteria.
Get informed, know your rights, and stop the eviction process
This is a difficult time for many Americans, especially those who have been laid off or suffered some kind of financial hardship due to COVID-19. While the federal eviction moratorium will not relieve you of your debts if you still owe back rent, it will prevent you from losing your home. If you have additional questions about the moratorium or your rights as a tenant, don’t hesitate to ask a lawyer.
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.