Being a landlord has its challenges. One such challenge is having to evict a renter, especially during the unprecedented times of COVID-19. Many landlords are confused about the Center for Disease Control eviction moratorium.
Also, several states have implemented local eviction bans for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. These rules are constantly changing due to the unpredictable nature of COVID-19. Even if there isn’t a ban, most courts across the US have suspended trials on non-essential issues, including trials on eviction and other landlord-renter issues.
We’ll Keep Up To Date: Latest Federal Eviction Moratorium News
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has announced that it will extend the federal eviction moratorium until March 31, 2021. You can still evict a tenant for reasons other than non-payment of rent, however. For instance, a tenant can be removed for selling drugs in the building, posing a risk to other residents or neighbors, causing property damage, or violating the rules of the area where they live.
Update: On March 29, 2021, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky announced an extension of the federal eviction moratorium through June 30, 2021.
So, how do you keep track of the rapidly changing eviction rules? In this article, we’ll help you understand what the Center for Disease Control eviction moratorium actually means for landlords. We’ll also explore steps that you should take when a tenant stops paying rent.
What Does The Center for Disease Control Eviction Moratorium Actually Say?
According to the Center for Disease Control eviction moratorium rules, any tenant, lessee, or resident of a property is “covered” (which means protected from eviction due to non-payment of rent) if they provide their landlord a declaration meeting all of these seven certifications:
1. A tenant can’t pay their full rent because of a decline in household income or exorbitant medical expenditures.
2. They’re trying their best to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as their situation permits, taking into account other non-discretionary expenditures.
3. They’re trying their best to get all accessible government aid for housing or rent.
4. They fulfill one of the following conditions:
- Expected to make less than $99,000 in Calendar Year 2020-2021 (or $198,000 for joint filing)
- Not obligated to report any income to the IRS
- Received a CARES Act stimulus check
5. If they were to be evicted, they’d likely become displaced, or move into a homeless shelter, or move into new accommodation shared by other individuals who will live in close quarters.
6. They understand that:
- They’re liable for paying due rent
- They may be charged fees for outstanding rent
- They must continue to abide by the lease terms.
7. They may be subject to eviction if they have outstanding rent or fees when the CDC Order expires.
To learn more about eviction moratoriums implemented during COVID-19, refer to this article. You may also check out some FAQs about the CDC eviction moratorium here. Bear in mind that state laws may further restrict the conditions under which landlords can evict tenants, and in that case, state laws take precedent.
Does This Really Mean I Cannot Evict a Tenant?
Yes, probably. In most cases, the only exceptions are:
- If you, the landlord, intend to sell or occupy the house as a primary residence.
- If the tenant is breaking the lease terms other than non-payment. For example, if they are:
- carrying out any criminal activity while living in the building;
- risking the health or security of other people;
- harming or posing a risk of damage to property
- breaching any applicable building code, health regulation, or similar directive relating to wellbeing and security; or
- breaching any other contractual requirement of a renter’s agreement, except for the timely rent payment or similar accommodation-related payment.
Also Read: How To Screen Tenants in 7 Easy Steps
5 Steps To Take If A Tenant Stops Paying Rent
While it’s not possible for you to directly evict a tenant due to non-payment, here are a few steps that can help you tackle someone who’s stopped paying rent:
1. Get in Touch with Tenants
Check-in with the renters, preferably in writing, asking about what is going on and what is preventing them from paying rent.
Many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and are falling behind on rent. Getting in touch with them and inquiring about their situation reinforces the fact that you have a personal relationship with them, and that you’re navigating many of the same issues that they are.
In a state of hardship everyone tends to put up barriers to entities they see as faceless. We believe cultivating personal connection promotes residents’ willingness to work out mutually beneficial solutions.
2. Be Empathetic
Make sure that you show empathy. Let them know that you know they’re suffering and will be working with them to get through the pandemic. Also, ensure tenants that you’ll be following all applicable laws.
We recommend waiving late fees, interest, and other charges associated with back rent. In some locations, such as Seattle, this is required by law. Late fees for rent and other charges are prohibited in the city (effective February 29, 2020).
3. Research Local Rules
Be careful about giving notices to the tenants or making any demands as you could be violating local and state rules. LegalFAQ is an easy way to search for local and state rules regarding evictions.
Some states have eviction rules much stricter than the CDC eviction moratorium. For instance Seattle, where we are located, has very restrictive local laws. The city council has extended the eviction ban, for example, to run for six months after expiration of the mayor’s emergency orders. Landlords also have to offer a payment plan for debt accumulated after February 29, 2020. When in doubt consult a local lawyer to ensure you are on the right side of the law!
4. Help Tenants Seek Rental Assistance
Work with your tenants to get rental assistance, so that you can get paid. The Emergency Rental Assistance program offers $25 billion to support households that are incapable of paying rent and utilities because of the pandemic.
As a landlord, you can also get paid assistance directly. Moreover, you can apply on behalf of the tenant or the tenant can also apply. If you’re the landlord, you will need to get your tenant to sign the application for assistance. Rental assistance funds generally go directly to landlords and utility providers, where there are unpaid balances. Learn more about rental assistance programs in different states.
Update: The $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Congress approved in March contains roughly $21.55 billion dollars earmarked for emergency rental assistance, in addition to the $25 billion approved earlier. Most of this rental assistance money in the American Rescue Plan will be sent to state and local governments by the Treasury Department. Those governments will then distribute it to renters and landlords to cover back rent and missed utility payments.
You should also provide your tenants with declaration forms, where they officially document and certify that they qualify for protection from eviction because of financial hardship arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. You may access a free declaration form on CDC’s website or download Nolo’s Eviction Ban Declaration Form.
5. Pursue Mortgage Forbearance
If you have a federally backed loan, consider pursuing mortgage forbearance. You may be entitled to postpone making your monthly mortgage payments for a transitory period, during which you will:
- Not incur late fees
- Be able to delay foreclosure and other legal proceedings
The first and most important step is to contact your lender directly to work out a payment plan or mortgage payment deferral. They will likely help you navigate any federal assistance programs. Another sourc
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will continue to provide COVID-19 forbearance to qualifying landowners through March 31, 2021, as announced by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). However, landlords entering into a new or amended forbearance arrangement must:
- Notify renters in writing about protections accessible during the landlord’s forbearance and repayment periods; and
- Agree not to evict renters solely for the rent non-payment while the property is in forbearance.
During the repayment periods, certain additional tenant protections apply, including:
- Giving renters at least a 30-day notice to leave the building;
- Not charging renters late fees or penalties for not paying rent; and
- Allowing renters to repay back rent flexibly over time, as-opposed to requiring a single lump-sum payment.
Here are two resources to look up whether your loan is federally-backed and eligible for forbearance:
- Fannie Mae: https://www.knowyouroptions.com/loanlookup
- Freddie Mac: https://loanlookup.freddiemac.com
Update: The original deadline for eligible properties was March 31, but now borrowers have until June 30, 2021, to apply for forbearance.
Will I Ever Get Paid Back Rent? If So, When?
In theory, yes. Depending on location, the rules differ on when tenants are bound to start making up back rent.
In many states and localities, rules about paying back rent are ambiguous, essentially saying “work with your tenant to reach a reasonable repayment schedule”.
No matter what the laws say, tenants can’t pay you money they don’t have. Evicting a tenant will ensure you won’t ever be paid back rent. So, as long as they’re able and willing to chip away at their debt, we feel that working with people who are behind is a pragmatic and humane way to handle this situation that’s hard for everyone.
We suggest developing an agreement that outlines the terms for payment of delinquent rent. You may refer to this sample agreement from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
An Example – Seattle’s Rent Repayment Guidelines:
|Months of Unpaid Rent||Repaid in # of Months|
|1 Month||Up to 3 equal monthly payments|
|1-2 Months||Up to 5 equal monthly payments|
|2+ Months||Up to 6 equal monthly payments|
Can I Raise Rent During the Center for Disease Control Eviction Moratorium?
Maybe, but we don’t recommend it. Rents in some areas of the country have fallen as much as 20%, though the impacts have varied from market to market. There’s a pretty good bet that rents are down in your market too and finding a new tenant during the pandemic is undesirable for everyone.
In addition to loss of rent, there’s a risk of COVID-19 exposure that goes along with filling a vacancy. Plus, there’s uncertainty about how the rest of the pandemic – and the economic impacts – will play out. There is no knowing how long it will take until things get back to normal. You’re likely to have to take a cut in rent, on top of losses from time sitting vacant.
It’s best to check your local regulations. Seattle eviction moratorium rules don’t allow rent increases, even if an actual increase is set to take place after March 31, 2021. However, a landlord may now provide notice of rent increase to a renter if the increase was included as terms of the lease agreement and the notice clearly specifies that the rent increases will not happen until after the moratorium expires.
The Center for Disease Control eviction moratorium addresses a very real problem; due to the COVID-19 pandemic many renters are out of work and simply unable to pay rent. The moratorium is an effort to prevent widespread evictions for non-payment of rent, which would result in a massive increase in homelessness.
Approximately half of all rental units in the US are owned by independent small-scale landlords, however, and the loss of rental income means serious financial hardship for many of them.
Federal and state eviction moratorium laws are putting landlords in a serious bind. There is legal peril in making missteps regarding these laws. Banks are still expecting mortgage payments, which may be difficult or impossible to make if rental income is down. It is impossible to know when the pandemic will lift and life, including economic activity, will return to some version of normal.
We are all in this difficult situation together. Our opinion is that the best course of action is to:
- Deal with tenants from a place of compassion and humanity.
- Document all communications and keep good payment records.
- Know the laws and follow them in order to avoid legal consequences.
- Seek help with bills, such as mortgage and utility forbearance.
- Wait out the uncertainty and work with tenants once things start to return to normal.
Government assistance has helped keep many individuals, businesses, and property owners afloat, and there is more in the pipeline. We encourage you to research assistance that’s available to you and your renters, and to consult a local attorney with any detailed questions about the federal and state eviction moratorium laws. We’ll be updating our Latest Federal Eviction Moratorium News as we learn more. Sign up for our newsletter, at the bottom of this post, and we’ll send you updates.
Resources For Managing Rentals While Social-Distancing:
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