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En español | The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tuesday issued a four-month, nationwide eviction moratorium to prevent families who are facing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic from being removed from their homes. As currently designed, however, the order offers only temporary relief: In January, renters who take advantage of the moratorium will still have to pay the full amount that accrued during late 2020 plus any additional late fees or penalties their leases allow.
The CDC, a seemingly unlikely agency to intervene in housing problems, issued the moratorium stating that “evictions threaten to increase the spread of COVID-19 as they force people to move, often into close quarters in new shared housing settings with friends or family, or congregate settings such as homeless shelters.” The agency, which is a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says the Public Health Service Act gives it the authority to issue the order.
While welcoming a federal effort to address the financial difficulties millions of families now face in paying for housing, advocates for both renters and landlords say this moratorium only delays the problems.
"While an eviction moratorium is an essential step, it is a half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed,” says Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), which represents renters. “This action delays but does not prevent evictions."
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"Hopefully, renters will be working with their housing providers during this period to really start having this communication and work on what's doable,” says Paula Cino, a vice president with the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), a group that represents landlords. She says renters should discuss payment plans or other options “because if a renter just defers all of this until January, that winds up as being a really insurmountable debt at the end of the moratorium period."
Who does the moratorium cover?
Once the order goes into effect Sept. 4, three groups of people will qualify for protection based on their incomes:
- Individuals who will earn $99,000 or less this year ($198,000 for couples who file jointly).
- People who received stimulus checks under the CARES Act earlier this year.
- People who did not have to report any income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in 2019 because of low earnings.
The moratorium does not apply to tenants who are being evicted because their leases have ended. It also does not cover those who are being evicted because they have threatened the health and safety of other residents, have caused significant property damage, engage in criminal activities on the premises, or violate the building's safety codes or other contractual obligations.
I can't pay my rent now. How can I use the moratorium?
To use the CDC moratorium to prevent an eviction, renters must sign a declaration stating their financial hardships and give that form to their landlord. (That declaration form will be available on the CDC website once it has been published in the Federal Register and appears in this document starting on page 33.) That declaration, which would be considered sworn testimony, asks you to state that:
- You have tried to get government assistance to pay your rent or housing.
- You meet the previously described income qualifications to be covered.
- You can't pay your rent due to lost income because of job loss or medical expenses.
- You have tried to make partial payments on your currently due rent.
- You will become homeless or forced to live in close-quarters shared housing if evicted.
- You understand that the accrued amount of rent you owe will still be due on Jan. 1, 2021, along with any additional fees or penalties your lease allows.
According to the CDC order, rental organizations that violate the moratorium could face fines of up to $500,000. Individual landlords who evict tenants improperly could be charged up to $250,000 in fines and/or up to a year in jail.
NMHC's Cino says that enforcement of the moratorium may fall to the courts that normally handle evictions, where judges would consider this new federal order alongside any eviction orders that may be in effect at the local or state level in their jurisdictions.
"Where a state and local jurisdiction has a more restrictive eviction order that provides greater protection, those requirements will be layered on top of this (CDC order),” Cino says. “A lot of this is going to happen at the judicial level.” According to reporting from the Washington Post, 17 states and the District of Columbia had eviction protections in place earlier this week.
Both the NMHC and the NLIHC are asking lawmakers to produce legislation that provides renters with financial support rather than just temporarily halting evictions.
"The way that we view it is protracted moratoriums are not sustainable, and they really do nothing to address a renter's underlying financial distress,” Cino says. “What you have here is a moratorium without rental assistance and that creates a situation that's really difficult to recover from."