Evictions during the pandemic: What to know and where renters can get help

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Many states and localities issued moratoriums on evictions at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. These moratoriums gave tenants one less thing to worry about as unemployment continued to rise, and people were forced to take furloughs and shelter in place.

But that’s all changing as these programs come to an end and as many as 23 million people will be subject to eviction by the end of September, according to the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

Eviction moratoriums set to expire

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government temporarily stopped evicting people from public housing, and in June, the Federal Housing Finance Agency extended their single-family moratorium on foreclosures and evictions until at least Aug. 31.

Most of the eviction moratoriums gave tenants a short break — from 60 to 120 days — from paying their monthly rent. They also stopped evictions based only on a tenant’s inability to pay. But moratoriums just delay the amount owed, not cancel it, and many of these tenant protections have already or are about to expire.

In Wisconsin, for example, the ban on evictions expired at the end of May. In June, the eviction rate in Milwaukee rose 15 percent with over 1,300 evictions; in the week of June 28-July 4, another 245 were filed in the city, according to data from Eviction Lab, a research project on housing costs and evictions out of Princeton University.

3 steps in the eviction process

Because tenant laws vary by state, the eviction process will depend on where you live. You can check your state’s website or contact your local housing authority for more information.

You’ll also want to review your lease agreement. There should be language about ending the tenancy and for what reasons. If you are a tenant-at-will, however, your landlord can ask you to leave for no reason but will usually need to give you 30 days.

Your best bet is to talk to your landlord, even if it feels uncomfortable, to see if you can come to an agreement.

But if you haven’t been able to pay your monthly rent and the moratorium in your state is ending soon, here’s what to know about the eviction process.

1. Notice to Quit

You’ll first receive a Pay Rent or Quit Notice. Each state has different laws about when this notice is used and how it is delivered. In some states, the landlord may simply post it on your front door. It should contain information about how much rent you owe and where and when to send the money. The period of time you have to pay will also depend on where you live. For example, in Florida, landlords are required to give tenants just three days, while in Maine, tenants have seven days.

If you can pay your rent, do it now. In most states, you won’t be evicted if you pay back all of the rent you owe. And because of the amnesty due to the pandemic, you are most likely protected from paying any late fees or interest.

2. Court summons and eviction trial

If you can’t pay the rent or you’ve ignored the Notice to Quit and the specified time frame has passed, your landlord will serve you with a Summons and Complaint. This notice will specify the reason for eviction and it will also contain several dates — including an entry date when the complaint will actually be filed with a court — and the trial date. Again, each state has laws about how you receive this court summons.

During the pandemic, however, many courts have postponed hearings on evictions and other nonessential matters. This doesn’t mean you’re necessarily off the hook, but it could mean that instead of a trial, the case will be settled out of court.

If there is a trial or hearing, go. If a tenant doesn’t show, in some states a judge will immediately order an eviction.

3. Vacate notice delivered by sheriff

After the court hearing, if you are evicted, you’ll be served a Notice to Vacate. You will usually have a few days to pack up and leave the property. If you don’t leave during the specified time, the local sheriff’s department will come to your apartment to remove your belongings before changing the locks.

Where to seek help if you’re being evicted

Several cities and states across the country have created special web pages listing city departments or organizations that are offering housing assistance during the pandemic. In New Jersey, for example, the Division of Housing and Community Resources has developed a program specifically for those facing eviction. Applicants may be awarded up to three months in back rent. Check your local government’s website to see if any resources are still available in your neighborhood and if you meet the criteria to apply.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition also has an up-to-date listing of programs that are providing some sort of rental assistance during this time. In addition to programs developed by cities and states, some nonprofit organizations have created funds to help those in need.

Finally, both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have websites devoted to renter resources during the pandemic. Enter your address, and you should see the most up-to-date information about local assistance that may be available. This is limited to properties that have a loan with either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. It’s worth checking your address, however, since the CARES Act gave these landlords a break from making their monthly mortgage payment, and you may be able to relax for just a little bit longer.

You may want to retain a lawyer, who can advise you and possibly negotiate with the landlord. Your local Legal Aid Society can assist with referrals.

Keep in mind that landlords have been affected by the pandemic too, and many are having trouble paying their mortgages. Many landlords have made concessions to tenants who have lost their income during these difficult times.

Featured image by Valerie Macon / Getty Images.