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The federal eviction moratorium is gone. What renters should know now
Millions of people could face eviction soon following the recent Supreme Court decision. We'll explain what it means and what resources are available.
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Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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The US national moratorium on evictions ended Aug. 26 after a 6-3 vote by the Supreme Court. The moratorium had been implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and extended by President Joe Biden's administration days after it was set to expire on July 31. The moratorium was in place to target specific areas most impacted by rising COVID-19 cases, which could likely be made worse by mass evictions. It was projected to cover close to 90% of American renters.
Evictions were supposed to be suspended until Oct. 3, but this was challenged by landlords, trade associations and real estate companies. In issuing its ruling, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court argued that the federal government didn't have the power to order such a ban and that the CDC had exceeded its authority. At least 11 million renters have fallen behind on rent and some 3.6 million households could face evictions in the coming months.
Who is affected by the decision to continue evictions?
Millions of renters who have fallen behind on their payments could face eviction in the coming months. A study in the spring by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development found that around 14% of the 44 million renter households were behind on rent, and nearly 10% had zero confidence in their ability to make the next month's rent. About one-third of the US population are renters, many of whom have been protected by some form of an eviction moratorium since Congress passed the initial CARES Act in March 2020.
What did the original ban on evictions protect?
The CDC instituted a national eviction moratorium by building on a 1944 public health law intended to curb the spread of a pandemic. Because homelessness can increase the spread of COVID-19, the order halted evictions across the US for anyone who has lost income due to the pandemic and has fallen behind on rent.
The federal mandate didn't prohibit late fees (although some local ordinances do), nor did it let tenants off the hook for any back rent they owe. It also didn't establish any kind of financial assistance fund to help renters get caught up -- a safeguard some say is critical to preventing a massive wave of evictions when the ban lifts. And it only protected renters who earned less than $99,000 per year or $198,000 for joint filers.
What did the White House say about the Supreme Court's decision?
In a statement in August, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the eviction moratorium helped to save lives by curbing the spread of COVID-19 and that the court's opinion meant communities across the country will face greater risk of exposure. "President Biden is once again calling on all entities that can prevent evictions -- from cities and states to local courts, landlords, Cabinet agencies -- to urgently act to prevent evictions," she said.
Earlier, the Biden administration released a statement detailing ways that state and local governments can help make it easier for people to get rent relief. The White House has said it will implement new policies to ensure that Emergency Rental Assistance will be accelerated to aid struggling renters most at risk of eviction. New guidance from the Department of the Treasury outlines ways that households can rely on self-attestation to receive ERA funds, meaning documents related to proving hardship, risk of homelessness and income instability could be verified by applicants themselves.
The Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and HUD are also taking additional action to help renters.
Are there any rental assistance or emergency protections that can be used now?
One purpose of the eviction moratorium was to give states and cities more time to get rental relief payments out, which would help people pay back rent and avoid eviction. But the amount of money that has actually reached people in need is a fraction of the $46.5 billion appropriated by Congress for emergency aid. One study shows several states haven't managed to get 5% of allocated federal dollars to renters facing eviction. According to The Washington Post, a combination of difficult application systems, technical glitches and lack of information about applying for ERA aid meant that money has not been disbursed.
Nonprofit 211.org connects those in need of help with essential community services in their area and has a specific portal for pandemic assistance. If you're having trouble with your food budget or paying your housing bills, you can use 211.org's online search tool or dial 211 on your phone to talk to someone who can try to help.
The online legal services chatbot at DoNotPay.com has a coronavirus financial relief tool that it says will identify which of the laws, ordinances and measures covering rent and evictions apply to you based on your location.
If you're delinquent on payments or know you will be soon, you may want to consult a lawyer to better understand how laws in your area apply to your situation. Legal Aid provides attorneys free of charge to qualified clients who need help with civil matters such as evictions. You can locate the nearest Legal Aid office using this search tool.
If you can no longer afford rent on your current home, relocation might be an option. Apps like Zillow, Trulia and Zumper can help you find something more affordable. Just be aware that you may still be held responsible for any back rent you currently owe, as well as any rent that accrues between now and the end of your lease (if you have one), whether or not you vacate.
Can renters request a reduction or extension from their landlords?
In almost all instances it's probably best to work out an arrangement with your landlord or leasing agency, if at all possible. Although some landlords have reportedly reacted to the pandemic by putting even more pressure on tenants to pay up, other landlords have negotiated rent, some going so far as to stop collecting rent payments for a period of time.
It may be worth approaching your landlord to see if you can pay less rent or spread payments for some months' rent out over the next year. Just be wary of landlords who make excessive demands. Don't agree to unreasonable conditions or terms you won't be able to meet, especially if your city or state has enacted protections against such arrangements.
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