If you are a renter, navigating landlord-tenant issues during the current COVID-19 crisis can be stressful and confusing. Not being able to pay the rent on time because you lost your job, for example, may leave you worried that your landlord may evict you or refuse to make necessary repairs. If you have tested positive for the virus, you may be concerned about whether you are required to notify your landlord.
Given the extreme and unusual circumstances in which the entire nation (and indeed the whole world) finds itself, it should come as no surprise that standard landlord-tenant rules may not currently be applicable. The following will help you understand your rights during this difficult time.
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What are my rights as a renter during a shelter-in-place order?
Under normal circumstances, landlord-tenant issues are predominantly governed by state law. The most notable exception to this general rule is when a renter is living in housing paid for by the federal government, such as Section 8 housing. In practical terms, what that means for landlord-tenant issues that crop up during the COVID-19 pandemic is that no universal set of rules apply.
The decision to ban evictions or suspend rent payments has been made largely at the city, county, or state level across the country. However, a provision of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act provides a temporary moratorium on evictions for certain properties that involve federal assistance or financing. In exchange, landlords have access to loan forbearance if they’re unable to pay their mortgage as a result of declining or late rent payments.
Can I be evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic?
If you live in federally-subsidized housing, you are protected from evictions for 120 days from the date the moratorium was enacted (March 27). If you do not live in federally-subsidized housing or a building that was purchased with a federally-backed loan, there is a good chance that you are still protected under a local or state order banning evictions. Even if your state has yet to enact a ban on evictions, your state supreme court may have ordered an emergency shut down of eviction proceedings. If you have questions about your specific situation, ask a lawyer.
Does my landlord still have to make repairs during shelter-in-place?
Whether you live in federally-subsidized or privately-owned housing, your landlord’s duty to maintain the property in a safe and habitable manner has not likely changed as a result of the current shelter-in-place orders. The federal and state eviction bans are a response to the unprecedented circumstances caused by COVID-19 and are intended to be a temporary reprieve for renters.
While the details can vary significantly, state eviction bans typically include language indicating when the ban expires and when renters must catch up on the unpaid rent. A landlord’s duties and responsibilities, however, are not usually suspended during the pandemic. In other words, landlords must continue to make necessary repairs.
I’m at home more due to shelter-in-place. Can I still make or receive noise complaints?
Just as your landlord typically remains obligated under the terms of your lease, so are you and your neighbors. For example, if your landlord receives a noise complaint against you, they can still address that complaint. If you fail to remedy the situation, it could be grounds for eviction at some point down the road. Just because your jurisdiction has suspended evictions during the shelter-in-place order doesn’t mean you can violate the provisions of your lease without facing repercussions once the order is lifted.
Can I move out during shelter-in-place?
Most state shelter-in-place orders expressly prohibit or strongly urge against moving while the stay-at-home order is active unless it was a move planned prior to the order going into effect and it cannot be postponed. If your lease has not actually ended, COVID-19 is not grounds for breaking your lease. You still need agreement from your landlord. Instead of breaking your lease, you might consider discussing one of the following options with your landlord: A Lease Assignment, a Sublease, or a Rent Payment Plan.
Do I need to notify my landlord or neighbors that I have tested positive for COVID-19?
You are not legally obligated to tell your landlord that you have tested positive for COVID-19 or that you have symptoms of the virus, nor are you required to prove that you have the virus in order to remain in your home during the crisis. From a safety perspective, however, you should mention your diagnosis/symptoms if you are requesting repairs that require someone to come into your home and request that anyone entering use protective equipment, such as a mask and gloves.
What should I do if I need something repaired?
As a renter, you may be hesitant to approach your landlord about making repairs during a shelter-in-place order—particularly if you have fallen behind on the rent. If you need something repaired, consider the following tips:
- Ask yourself if the repair is necessary. Is the repair something that truly needs to be handled immediately? For example, a leaky faucet could wait whereas a broken water heater cannot. The leaky faucet might be annoying, but now might not be the time to make an issue of it.
- Put your request in writing. The sad reality is that many landlords are not abiding by the temporary change in landlord-tenant laws, which means there may be a considerable increase in litigation once the shelter-in-place orders are lifted. Make sure you put your Tenant Repair Request in writing so you will have it documented. Be as clear as possible when describing the problem and the requested repair.
- Try and work with your landlord. Although the law may firmly be on your side, now is not the best time to get into a dispute with your landlord if you can help it. Be patient (to a point) and remember to observe the social distancing guidelines if someone is dispatched to your home to handle the repair.
Protect your rights as a tenant
Because every jurisdiction’s shelter-in-place order is unique, the most important step you can take if you have a landlord-tenant question or problem is to talk to a lawyer. Your attorney will be familiar with the details of the order governing your area and can provide you with personalized advice and guidance. For free access to legal advice and legal documents in relation to COVID-19, check out the Coronavirus Legal Center.