Ongoing Eviction Moratorium: Where Are We Now?
As the coronavirus began to spread across the U.S. in March 2020, businesses closed their doors and unemployment soared to nearly 15% by April, the highest rate since the Great Recession in every state. Numerous local, state and federal regulations were enacted that had a deep impact on the rights and financial wellbeing of landlords and tenants, including eviction moratoriums. In September 2020, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) mandated a nationwide eviction moratorium? that superseded other statewide moratoriums. On May 5, 2021, a federal judge in the District of Columbia struck down that moratorium as unconstitutional. That decision is under appeal by the Justice Department.
Here is a look at the path of eviction moratoriums since the pandemic began:
March 2020: Multiple states, the District of Columbia and other cities instituted eviction bans early in the pandemic so that landlords could not evict tenants for nonpayment. Some jurisdictions allowed landlords the right to begin eviction proceedings if the tenants were seriously past due on rent prior to February 29, 2020 or if the tenants were participating in illegal activity in the home.
In every jurisdiction, tenants were expected to pay some or all of the rent if they could. Past due rent, late fees, interest and penalties could accumulate on the missing rent payments.
Simultaneously, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac initiated eviction moratoriums to landlords with properties financed through their respective loan programs. Eventually, those eviction bans on tenants due to nonpayment of rent were extended for multifamily property owners with financing through FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through June 30, 2021.
April 2020: Both tenants and landlords expressed dissatisfaction with the eviction bans because of their long-term implications. Landlords are frustrated because the continued eviction moratorium extensions do not include financial aid to pay for maintenance of their buildings, mortgage payments and operating costs while their tenants are unable to pay their rent. Tenant advocates, while relieved that evictions are on hold, are dissatisfied that rent, late fees and penalties continue to accumulate. The concern is that when the bans eventually lift, tenants may find it impossible to pay their past due bills and a wave of evictions will follow.
As early as April 2020, tenant advocacy groups and ad hoc groups of tenants began rent strikes and a “cancel the rent” movement to force long-term rent forgiveness. Many landlords worked with individual tenants to arrange an affordable payment plan.
Summer 2020: Many state and local eviction moratoriums began to expire in the summer of 2020, although some were extended along with the FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac moratoriums. Stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits that helped tenants make partial or full rent payments in the spring began to expire as well.
September 2020: On September 1, 2020, the CDC enacted a four-month long national eviction moratorium to prevent renters from the possibility of homelessness and the potential spread of the COVID-19 virus if tenants were forced to move to a crowded shelter. The CDC moratorium superseded all other eviction bans and impacted every multifamily owner in the nation. An exception was made so that tenants could be evicted for criminal activity, endangering the health and safety of other tenants, or damaging property.
Under the CDC’s eviction ban, tenants must send their landlord a form that attests that they attempted to obtain government assistance to pay their rent, expect to earn a maximum of $99,000 in annual income in 2020 or $198,000 if filing a joint tax return and that their inability to pay the rent is because of a COVID-19 related hardship.
December 2020: Congress approved $25 billion of emergency rental assistance. An additional $21.5 billion in rental assistance was approved in March. A variety of state and local rental assistance programs are also in place, but many housing advocates say disbursement has been slow.
March 2021: All federal eviction moratoriums, including the CDC’s were extended through June 30, 2021.
May 2021: On May 5, 2021, a federal judge in the District of Columbia invalidated the CDC’s eviction moratorium because the eviction ban exceeded the CDC’s mandate to regulate "sources of dangerous infection to human beings." The decision was stayed while it is under appeal by the Justice Department.
While the lifting of the CDC eviction moratorium, if it is upheld, offers an opening for landlords to evict nonpaying tenants, those who own property in states or localities with their own bans must abide by them. Eviction ban enforcement is up to housing court judges in each state who review multiple factors including local regulations. In addition, judges in eviction cases may review the payment history of a tenant prior to and during the pandemic, as well as the landlord’s history of keeping buildings in good repair and efforts to work out payment plans with tenants.
On May 7, 2021, the Biden administration announced new rules in an attempt to speed Emergency Rental Assistance getting to tenants.
For the latest on state eviction moratoriums, visit the frequently updated MBA tracker.