COVID-19 Outbreak Leading to Eviction Moratoriums
The spread of COVID-19 illnesses across the country is disrupting many elements of daily life. Elected officials at the state and local level are attempting to stymie transmission of the virus by closing schools, cancelling or postponing public events, and instituting building closures. These decisions, while in the interest of public health, are leading to tangible impacts on people’s income and employment, especially for hourly workers who have limited or no ability to telework.
Many renters will struggle to meet their financial responsibilities as this health crisis continues. As a result, numerous municipalities have implemented some type of eviction moratorium to prevent housing loss and prevent the subsequent potential of further community spread. The nature of these moratoriums differ by jurisdiction and is often a varied mix of the following actions:
- Law enforcement suspending service of process and/or the physical execution of eviction orders;
- Courts refusing to accept eviction filings, suspending hearings and prohibiting the execution of writs of possession, with some exceptions made for cases involving immediate harm or threat to persons or property; and
- State and local executives and governing bodies instituting eviction moratoriums by executive order or legislation with parameters for qualifying for relief and in some cases, restricting, rental housing providers’ ability to serve notices.
As conversations about renter protection mandates progress at all levels of government, policymakers should remember the impact on rental housing providers and apartment communities at-large. Furthermore, the financial instability of low-income renters will only be exacerbated by the impacts of ongoing emergency directives. With severe business disruptions in all sectors, renters will likely be subject to periods of sustained income loss. It is important that any ban on evicting tenants who are unable to fulfill their financial lease obligations must be carefully tailored. Rent payments should be delayed during this time period, not waived.
Additionally, a major flaw of these emergency suspensions of evictions—while they are necessary to protect public health in the current environment—is that they are not directly coupled with any financial assistance for either renters or housing providers. As Jenny Schuetz of the Brookings Institute notes, “short term financial assistance would help poor families continue paying rent and buying food until the broader economy stabilizes. It would be more effective than a temporary moratorium on evictions (as some jurisdictions have enacted), since landlords also need money to pay their mortgages, property taxes, and utilities.”
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