If you’re behind on your rent because of the coronavirus pandemic, you just got extra time to catch up.
A new order from the Trump administration bars most landlords from pursuing evictions through the end of 2020.
The order was issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control as a measure to reduce the impact of the covid-19 crisis. With millions of people at risk of eviction, housing advocates have argued that a large wave of homelessness could worsen the spread by crowding shelters and forcing people into cramped living spaces.
8 Trump Eviction Moratorium FAQs: What Renters and Landlords Should Know
We’ve compiled what we know so far about the new order into this Trump eviction moratorium FAQ. If you have additional questions about evictions or the current financial crisis, email [email protected]
1. How do I know if I qualify for the new eviction moratorium?
To qualify, you’ll have to sign a sworn declaration affirming that:
- You’ve tried to obtain government assistance for your rent or housing payments.
- You expect to earn no more than $99,000 in 2020 if you’re a single tax filer or $198,000 if you’re married filing jointly. You could also qualify if you weren’t required to file taxes in 2019 or if you received a coronavirus stimulus check. (The income limits for stimulus checks are the same as the moratorium limits.)
- You’ve been unable to pay the rent because you lost your job, income or work hours, or you’ve had significant medical expenses.
- You’ve made your best attempt to make partial payments that are as close to the full payment as possible.
- The eviction would either leave you homeless or force you into close quarters or a shared living situation.
2. What should I do if my landlord is threatening to evict me?
At the end of the CDC’s 37-page order, you’ll find the declaration form described in the first question. You simply need to print it, fill it out and give it to your landlord or whoever owns the property you live in. Each adult covered by the lease should print out their own form. You don’t need to send a copy to the federal government.
Forms will also be available at CDC.gov within the next few days.
3. Does this mean my back rent is forgiven?
No, no, NO. We cannot stress that point enough. Any unpaid rent you owe will continue to accrue. In fact, the order explicitly states that it doesn’t preclude landlords from charging fees, penalties and interest as the result of missed payments.
If your rent is $1,000 a month and you last paid in April, you should expect to owe $8,000 in back rent, plus whatever fees and interest your landlord tacks on AND January’s rent when 2021 rolls around.
4. Does the order provide money for rental assistance?
No. The order simply delays eviction proceedings for another four months. It doesn’t offer financial assistance for renters or landlords.
5. I’m a landlord who lives off of rental income. What does this order mean for me?
If you’re a landlord affected by coronavirus, you probably won’t like this order. Not only does the order contain no financial assistance, but it also says that landlords who violate it could face hefty penalties.
An individual who violates the order could face a fine of up to $100,000, a year in jail or both — and that’s if the eviction doesn’t result in death. If a death does occur, the possible fine goes up to $250,000, in addition to the possibility of a year in jail.
Organizations that violate face a fee of up to $200,000 in cases that don’t involve death, or up to $500,000 for cases where a death occurs.
Landlords can still pursue evictions, back rent, fees and interest once the moratorium ends.
6. What if I live in a motel?
You’re not covered under the order. The moratorium only applies to tenants covered under a lease. It explicitly states that those living in hotels, motels and other temporary housing are excluded.
In this case, we strongly suggest calling the 211 helpline, which can connect you with local housing resources.
7. Are there any circumstances in which a tenant can still be evicted?
Yes. You can still be evicted for reasons other than not paying. Engaging in criminal activity on the property, threatening other tenants and causing property damage are all still grounds for eviction.
As Ron Lieber points out in the New York Times, landlords could also challenge the truthfulness of a tenant’s statement and try to evict them anyway. In that case, the matter could go before a judge.
8. How is this different from the eviction moratorium in the CARES Act?
The CARES Act eviction moratorium was limited to people renting homes that were financed by a federally backed mortgage. Many states and municipalities passed their own moratoriums, though protections remain in effect in 17 states and Washington, D.C., The Washington Post reports.
The new moratorium is much broader and covers most renters who meet the criteria listed in the first question.
What to Do if You’re Behind on Rent
If you’re behind on rent, you need to treat this as a four-month reprieve to get a plan in place. Don’t wait until December to make your action plan.
Your first step is to try negotiating with your landlord. They may be willing to accept partial payments or waive fees, particularly if you can show them that you’ll be able to resume on-time payments.
Take a hard look at all your bills. Your food, health care and shelter are your top priorities. We’d advise paying your rent unless doing so means going hungry or without medication. Stop making credit card and loan payments if you must. You’ll still owe that rent come January. It will be a lot easier to recover from falling behind on credit cards than losing your housing.
Get connected with local resources now. When you’re facing homelessness, the best resources are available at the local level. Calling that 211 helpline we mentioned earlier now, even though you’re not on the brink of eviction, is a good starting point. They can also connect you with local food pantries, which could free up some money to put toward rent.
Reach out to family and friends. If you know someone with a spare room who might be willing to let you move in, now is the time to start talking — provided, of course, that the living situation wouldn’t put you at increased risk of contracting covid.
Pay whatever you can. Every dollar you can put toward rent is a dollar that you won’t owe in January, so pay as much as you can toward your rent, even if you can’t afford the full amount. If you do find yourself facing eviction, showing that you made a good-faith effort to pay can only help your case.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]