The Trump administration acted on Tuesday to temporarily halt evictions for most Americans due to the coronavirus pandemic. This move will provide critical protection for millions of low-income renters and homeowners on the brink of losing their homes. Without emergency rental assistance, though, the order only pushes out the date when millions of low-income families will owe months of back rent.
The agency order was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It temporarily suspends residential evictions for individuals earning less than $99,000 or who received a stimulus check. These protections are in force through December 31. Landlords can still file evictions for other reasons like threatening the health and safety of others or damage to a unit.
Tenants will be responsible for missed rent and any penalties or fees related to the missed payments. There are also criminal penalties for landlords who violate the order, including steep fines and possible jail time.
Renters and homeowners must meet the following criteria to be protected by the eviction moratorium:
- Must earn less than $99,000, or have received a coronavirus stimulus check.
- Must certify that they have lost a “substantial” amount of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
- Must make their “best efforts” to pay as much of their rent as they can, and pay it as close to when it is due as they can.
- Must certify that eviction will likely lead them to homelessness or doubling up with others.
The CDC issued the agency order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The CDC’s move is a response to an executive order on evictions and foreclosures issued by President Trump in early August. It required the CDC to study whether evictions would contribute to the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC determined that widespread evictions would lead to more homelessness and spread of the disease. The CDC notes that it is impossible to practice social distancing in emergency shelters or when doubled up with others. The CDC makes it clear that it is temporarily suspending evictions as a public health measure, citing its authority under Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act.
There have been mixed reactions to the CDC’s order. Housing advocates have applauded the effort to protect renters from eviction and homelessness during the pandemic, but are also concerned that it will only kick the problem down the road.
The order still requires that rent be paid, as well as any fees and penalties related to nonpayment of rent. Back rent and fees will be due when the order expires at the end of December. This will leave millions of renters with debt they cannot hope to cover, even with repayment plans.
Diane Yentel, CEO of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), said that an eviction ban without rental assistance is a “half-measure that extends a financial cliff for renters to fall off of when the moratorium expires and back rent is owed.” The House-passed HEROES Act includes $100 billion for emergency rental assistance. The Senate, however, has not included it in any of their proposals for the next coronavirus stimulus package.
Landlords also have concerns about the measure. Like affordable housing advocates, they support emergency rental assistance. Without rent payments from tenants, many landlords will have to defer maintenance on properties, and may not be able to pay their mortgage or taxes.
About half of all rental units in the U.S. are owned by small “Mom and Pop” landlords that only have one-to-four units. They typically do not have the financial cushion to go without rent payments for very long.
Although President Trump surely pushed this step to avoid a wave of evictions before the November elections, it will help millions of renters remain in their homes for the next four months. But without rental assistance, low-income renters will face a crushing bill for back-rent come January. That is not how anyone wants to ring in the New Year.