How can state and local governments protect renters as the pandemic drags on? - Affordable Housing Online

How can state and local governments protect renters as the pandemic drags on?

By on February 16th, 2021

Tagged As: COVID-19 Evictions, Editorials

Modified photo by Airman Basic David Tracy on macdill.af.mil

A new document listing effective state and local strategies to protect tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic has a lot of information that can help low-income renters stay in their homes during these difficult times.

The current national eviction moratorium does not address all the needs faced by desperate low-income renters, but many state and local governments have policies with better tenant protections.

The short Fact Sheet was put together in January by the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) and National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). While this document was written for elected officials, housing advocates and legal professionals; it is valuable information for renters to know.

A renter may discover a strategy that is being utilized in their area that they previously did not know. And if their area isn’t giving the necessary help, renters can push local officials to adopt some of these strategies, or support local organizations that are pushing for them.

National Low Income Housing Coalition logo. Image by nlihc.org

State and Local Eviction Moratoriums are Still Needed

Many state and local governments continue to run emergency rental assistance and other programs that promote housing stability during the crisis. While these measures have helped a lot of renters, most do not have the funds to meet the full need.

Even though the CDC eviction moratorium is in place around the country, low-income renters continue to face eviction. State and local governments can adopt their own eviction moratoriums that provide better protections for renters.

Eviction moratoriums should apply to all residential properties. They should also halt all stages of the eviction process. Even if renters do not get evicted, an eviction filing still stays on their record and can make it hard to find new housing later.

State and local eviction moratoriums should also require only “Just Cause” evictions during the emergency. This means that tenants cannot be evicted for failure to pay rent, only for other lease violations like damage to the unit or criminal activity. Eviction moratoria should also ban fees for late or missed payments during the emergency.

People should also not be evicted for back rent that accrued during the pandemic. This will prevent a wave of evictions when protections expire. It will also give more time for rental assistance programs to catch up with the need.

Landlords should not be allowed to retaliate against tenants because of being behind on rent. Landlords should also be barred from reporting to credit bureaus evictions and late rent payments from the pandemic period.

Rental Assistance Programs Help Tenants and Landlords Alike

NHLP and NLIHC recommend that state and local governments create effective rental assistance programs. This helps low-income renters by helping them catch up on missed rent and keeping them current through the crisis. It also benefits landlords by helping them pay their bills and keep their properties.

Local governments can also create eviction mediation programs. These can be an alternative to the formal eviction process, allowing landlords and tenants to work out repayment options. These programs also benefit by working together with rental assistance programs.

National Housing Law Project logo. Image by nhlp.org

Fair Housing During the Pandemic and Beyond

Other strategies address fair housing concerns that go beyond the immediate crisis. These strategies address access to affordable housing and fair representation. They would benefit low-income renters even after the pandemic fades.

State and local governments should pass and enforce legislation that requires landlords to accept rental assistance vouchers. Many state and local governments already have these “Source of Income” (SOI) laws, but millions of renters are not protected.

Even before the pandemic, landlords almost always bring lawyers to eviction court and low-income renters almost never have legal representation. State and local governments can enact laws that provide a right to counsel in eviction cases. Fair Chance ordinances should also be adopted so that people with criminal records are not barred from affordable housing.

Flexibility with Leases Can Help a Lot of Renters

State and local governments can also pass laws that allow tenants to get flexibility with their lease terms. Renters should be allowed to add family members to the lease during the pandemic. If the lease holder dies during the pandemic, other household members should be allowed to assume the lease. Tenants should also be released from existing leases with no penalties if they are not able to make their full rent payment due to the pandemic or if the pandemic forces them to leave their housing for other reasons.

The housing search process is another area where state and local governments can help low-income renters during the pandemic. Landlords should be required to give notice to applicants who are denied housing. Rental application fees should also be prohibited. These fees pose a major barrier to low-income renters who are searching for good quality housing.

Low-income renters have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus crisis. State and local governments need to step up to the plate and protect renters from losing their homes because of the pandemic. Without this help now, communities across the country will see a wave of neighbors at risk of losing their homes when eviction protections end.

Published by

Chris Holden

Chris Holden, Affordable Housing Online's Senior Housing Analyst, has been in the affordable housing field for 25 years. Originally from Keene, New Hampshire, he has worked as a researcher, policy analyst, lender, trainer and real estate developer. He also taught political science at Keene State College. He is focused on making housing policies more accessible for low-income renters.