5 Ways to Avoid Eviction When COVID-19 Ends
When 2020 ends so does a federal moratorium on residential evictions, making now a good time for renters to come up with a strategy to fight a possible eviction.
The order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Health and Human Services is effective from Sept. 4, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020 for renters declaring an income loss or significant medical expense.
Covid-19 is a historic threat to public health and housing stability helps protect public health, according to the notice.
A recession caused by businesses shutting down during the coronavirus also makes it hard to pay rent, so anti-eviction laws are helping people who can’t afford to stay in their homes. The federal law doesn’t cancel or stop the rent from being owed, or stop the build up of owed rent, which would be due when the order expires.
Unless the moratorium is extended, all of this could change on Jan. 1, 2021, when landlords can legally start evicting tenants and homeowners again. The order covers virtually all rental properties, including single-family homes, mobile homes and apartments.
Getting your financial house in order before then could be the difference between being homeless and having a roof over your head. Evictions can often be reversed if you pay back what you owe or start a payment plan.
If you’re unsure if you can pay the rent on Jan. 1, and aren’t up-to-date on your back rent, here are five things to check on before a possible eviction happens. While the federal order only applies to rental housing, homeowners can also face eviction if they fall behind on their mortgage payments, so these tips also apply to them.
1. Contact Your Landlord
If you haven’t already talked to your landlord by now about being unable to make payments, now is the time before the eviction moratorium ends.
Don’t ignore their phone calls, emails or letters. A partial payment is at least a gesture of good faith, and an explanation of how you plan to make up the difference and make future payments can help avoid eviction.
Finding a new tenant and going through an eviction process isn’t fun for the landlord, so expect them to be willing to work with you on a solution.
If you do get a court summons for eviction, don’t miss the court date. An immediate eviction is likely if you don’t show up, so get there and plead your case to at least get an extension.
2. Know Your State’s Eviction Laws
Once the federal moratorium ends, your state’s laws on evictions take effect. Learn what they are because your landlord or lender is probably following them. If they’re not, then you have a good chance of fighting an eviction notice.
The federal moratorium that ends Dec. 31, 2020 doesn’t replace or override stronger state or local eviction protections. So if your area has better eviction protections, those will help more.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website links to each state’s tenants’ rights.
Read your lease agreement carefully and know your responsibilities as a tenant. Housing officials in your state, county and city may be able to help you, as can housing rights advocates and lawyers.
3. Consider Legal Help
Hiring a lawyer to help you fight an eviction can be costly, but free legal services may also be available.
Legal Services Corporation is the largest funder of civil legal aid for low income people. Look for free or inexpensive legal help on its website.
The National Low Income Housing Coalition can also help with legal advice. To be protected under the federal moratorium, it reminds renters facing eviction to provide a signed declaration to their landlords that states they have faced an income loss or significant medical expense.
4. Invoke the Force Majeure Clause
The seldom-used force majeure clause in most leases allows tenants to be relieved of payment for reasons outside their control, such as a national pandemic.
The clause is typically invoked when there are acts of God, such as national disasters, or events such as a national pandemic like Covid-19.
To invoke the force majeure clause in your lease, send a written notice to the landlord that you’re invoking it to protect yourself. Without making the notice your ability to use it could be waived.
It may not work because the pandemic has been around for awhile, but it’s worth trying.
Filing for bankruptcy is a major step to avoid eviction, and it will hurt your credit, but doing it before you get an eviction notice could help you put off an eviction.
This isn’t a decision to be made lightly, and should obviously only be done if you absolutely need to declare bankruptcy anyway.
Eviction laws differ by state, but some allow a bankruptcy filing to stop an eviction. A Chapter 13 bankruptcy can require setting up a three- to five-year plan to repay the rent you owe and make current monthly rent payments while keeping you in your rental property.
Bankruptcy filings start an automatic stay that prevents creditors from coming after filers. Once a judgment is made, the automatic stay may be lifted and the landlord could evict you. Still, it could buy you enough time to come to a payment agreement with them.