The Trump administration announced a new moratorium on evictions that goes into effect nationwide on Friday and will last through December, but some local activists say that without financial relief to help renters climb out of the hole caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a moratorium is not enough.
Housing rights activists with the Tenant Organizing Resource Center (TORC) delivered their own eviction notices to members of the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) on Thursday afternoon, as community members spoke about their own experiences with eviction and protested the NCGA’s ongoing failure to provide adequate relief during the biggest eviction crisis in U.S. history. On Wednesday, the group rallied in front of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse for the same cause.
A statewide moratorium on evictions began in March and ended on June 20. In Mecklenburg County, eviction proceedings, known as summary ejectment hearings, resumed in July 20. The new order does not offer retroactive protections to people who have been evicted between the end of the first moratorium and the beginning of the next one, which is being enacted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s estimated that 542,000 renter households in North Carolina are experiencing a rent shortfall.
“The recently announced nationwide eviction moratorium by the CDC still leaves many people vulnerable and does nothing to address the financial cliff that renters and landlords will find themselves facing at the end of the year when the moratorium expires,” read a press release from TORC. “[House Bill] 1105, which just passed in the N.C. Senate, provides no relief for housing or utility payments as we enter the fall and winter months and as the pandemic and economic downturn continue to bring unprecedented hardship to North Carolina families.”
HB 1105, known also as Coronavirus Relief Act 3.0, does not include any new funding for rental or utility assistance, instead placing funds previously dedicated to such in a larger pool with a range of possible uses, as pointed out by NC Policy Watch. House Bill 1200, which was filed in May and has been languishing in committee since, would provide $400 million to residents who have been impacted most by the COVID-19 crisis.
However temporarily, the moratorium on evictions will surely help many people who were at urgent risk of becoming homeless in September and the coming months. Isaac Sturgill, managing attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Housing Practice Group, held a virtual press conference on Wednesday laying out the steps for tenants to apply for protections under the new moratorium.
The moratorium does not automatically apply to all evictions, only those caused directly by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tenants who meet certain requirements must file an affidavit with their property owner to be considered protected under the moratorium. Tenants must sign off that they meet all of the following requirements:
- income is less than $99,000; did not have to pay income tax in 2019; and/or received a stimulus check
- unable to pay rent due to income loss or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses
- would become homeless or need to double-up (stay with friends or family) if evicted
Tenants must also promise under oath in the affidavit that they will continue to make partial payments “using best efforts to make timely partial payments that are as close to the full payment as the individual’s circumstances may permit, taking into account other non-discretionary expenses.”
A tenant needs only to print out the affidavit, which can be found in the moratorium order itself, then sign and deliver it to their landlord or property owner. Landlords do not need to formally accept the affidavit, tenants only need to be able to show that they have attempted to deliver it. Sturgill recommended that any tenant who files an affidavit make two copies, so as to have one for their own records.
Sturgill said he was “floored” by the moratorium, which was handed down by the CDC on Tuesday, and has not seen anything like it in his eight-year legal career representing tenants.
“In my lifetime I have not seen a moratorium on evictions that is this broad and this all-encompassing. It does seem like an extraordinary move by the federal government,” Sturgill said. “There’s a lot of hope for tenants who are facing eviction but also a lot of logistically trying to scramble to figure out, how is this going to work? How are these protections going to work for everybody?”
Some parts of the moratorium leave room for legal subjectivity, such as the question around people who live in hotels. In August, Queen City Nerve spoke with Ethiopia Williams, who has lived in a hotel with her 9-year-old daughter for two years because an eviction on her record has made it hard for her to find housing despite working multiple jobs.
On Wednesday, Sturgill pointed out that the order applies to renters on any residential property, house, building, apartment, mobile home, or land that’s been rented. However, what’s in the cards for people who live permanently in hotels?
“The order does state that if you’re a ‘seasonal tenant’ or a guest at a hotel, this does not protect you,” Sturgill said, “but families that live in hotels as their permanent residence may have an argument that this does still apply.”
Sturgill said his team is working to clear up legal questions like that and provide more information, including the order itself and the affidavit needed for tenants who want to claim its protections, on the Legal Aid of NC website.
In the meantime, local activists will continue to push for more relief on the ground for those affected most directly by the rent shortfall. Apryl Lewis, a Charlotte-based housing advocate who spent much of 2019 helping families being displaced from the Lake Arbor apartment complex in west Charlotte, helped organize Thursday’s protest in Raleigh and explained why in a release leading up to the action.
“We have been fighting eviction and the cycle of displacement our community faces daily before the pandemic and will continue to fight for our community during and after,” Lewis stated. “Displacement is state violence.”