The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses across the United States to close their doors, leading to a nationwide unemployment rate of 15% in April 2020—the highest it’s been since the Great Recession. A number of local state and federal regulations were put in place that impacted landlords’ and tenants’ financial well-being, such as eviction moratoriums.
Initially, the eviction moratoriums varied by state. Then in September 2020, the Centers for Disease control (CDC) instituted a nationwide eviction moratorium that superseded state regulations. A federal judge ruled that the CDC’s moratorium was unconstitutional in May of this year. The decision is now under appeal by the Justice Department.
Commercial real estate financial and investment firm Greystone recently shared a timeline following the eviction moratorium’s path since the pandemic started last March.
Individual states, cities and Washington, DC instituted eviction ban as the pandemic began so landlords could not evict tenants for non-payment. Other jurisdictions let landlords start eviction proceedings if tenants’ rent was seriously past due before February 29, 2020. Landlords could also evict tenants if they were participating in illegal activities in their home. Tenants in every jurisdiction were expected to pay at least some of their rent if they could. Past due rent, late fees, interest and penalties could accumulate on missed rent payments.
While this was happening, the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac put eviction moratoriums in place for landlords that financed properties through their loan programs, according to Greystone. The bans eventually applied to multi-family property owners as well who financed through one of those institutions. These bans were put in place through June 30, 2021.
Landlords and tenants alike had issues with the eviction bans. Landlords were dissatisfied because the moratorium extensions did not provide them with financial aid to pay for building maintenance, mortgage payments and operating costs while tenants weren’t paying their rent. Meanwhile, tenant advocates were happy that evictions were banned, but did not like that late fees and penalties were accruing on the missed payments. Their argument was tenants would not be able to pay their past due bills, leading to mass evictions. Tenant advocacy groups and others started rent strikes and a “cancel the rent” movement to force long-term rent forgiveness. Meanwhile, landlords worked with individual tenants to set up affordable payment plans.
State and local eviction moratoriums started to expire. The FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac moratoriums, along with others, were extended however. The stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits that allowed tenants to make full or partial rent payments started to expire, too.
The CDC implemented a four-month national eviction moratorium to prevent potential homelessness and COVID-19 spread in the event tenants had to move into a crowded shelter. The CDC’s moratorium took precedence over any other eviction ban. Exceptions were made so tenants could be evicted for criminal activity or any behavior that endangered other tenants’ health and safety, or damaging property.
The CDC’s ban also required tenants to present a form to their landlord that showed that they tried to get government assistance to pay their rent. Tenants also had to prove that they expected to earn a maximum of $99,000 (single) in annual income in 2020 or $198,000 (joint tax return) and that they could not pay rent because of a pandemic-related hardship.
Congress approved $25 billion for emergency rental assistance. Another $21.5 billion was approved in March. While state and local rental assistance programs were also implemented, housing advocates said the financial aid disbursement has been slow, Greystone reports.
All federal eviction moratoriums were extended through June 30, 2021.
U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich threw out the CDC’s eviction moratorium, stating it exceeded the organization’s mandate to regulate, “sources of dangerous infections to human beings.” Judge Friedrich’s decision was stayed while it’s under appeal by the Justice Department. If the decision is upheld, landlords could be in position to evict their non-paying tenants. Landlords would still have to abide by any state or local eviction bans that might still be in place, however.
State housing court judges will likely review multiple factors such a local regulations, tenants’ payment history before and during the pandemic as well as the landlord’s record of keeping their buildings in good shape and if they tried to establish payment plans with their tenants.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced new rules to expedite getting Emergency Rental Assistance to tenants.
Joe Dyton can be reached at email@example.com.