Property owners who have effectively been forced to provide subsidized housing for some residential tenants during the pandemic could be off the hook soon as most of the government-issued eviction moratoriums are set to expire in the coming months.
On December 31st, a nationwide CDC order covering states and localities without eviction bans will expire. Similar policies in New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington state are also scheduled to lapse at the end of this year, while California’s version remains in effect until February 1.
Meanwhile, millions of renters remain unemployed and still owe thousands in back rent and late fees. The uncertainty about whether rent will be paid has resulted in both tenants and individual landlords relying on credit cards, emergency funds, and family and friends to get by. Stout, a global investment bank and advisory firm, estimates up to 8.4 million renter households (20.1 individual renters) “could experience an eviction filing” by January, with projections showing up to $34 billion in funds owed by renters to property owners.
Tenant advocates warn of a wave of evictions on the horizon if federal and state governments don’t extend the protective measures or provide substantial financial assistance.
With #COVID19 cases surging, and many families and small businesses struggling, my colleagues and I are asking Governor Ducey to extend the eviction moratorium for renters, replenish the COVID-19 Rental Assistance Fund, & help small business landlords apply for rental assistance. pic.twitter.com/gxM4nN31Hn
— Sen. Sean Bowie (@seanbowie) November 24, 2020
According to data provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this year, there were 48.2 million rental housing units nationwide, 41% of which were owned by individual investors instead of limited liability corporations or partnerships.
Landlord associations maintain that the orders incentivize occupants to delay or skip rent, preventing property owners from paying their mortgages, insurance fees, property taxes, and other expenses, let alone make a profit. They said landlords have been pressed “to bear a disproportionate share of the costs of the pandemic,” resulting in significant financial disruption. Government authorities claimed such moratoria are necessary to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, arguing housing stability protects public health, and homelessness would likely increase transmission. Lawsuits have challenged the constitutional authority and legality of the temporary bans with little success.
A U.S. District Court in Atlanta, for instance, denied a request from housing providers to issue an injunction that would have dropped the CDC’s emergency measure.“Although [the landlords] have shown an economic harm, that economic harm pales in comparison to the significant loss of lives that [the CDC] has demonstrated could occur should the Court block the order,” wrote U.S. District Judge J.P. Boulee in October.
Last month in Los Angeles, U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson denied a similar request by the largest landlord organization in Southern California to halt a citywide moratorium and rent freeze.
As City News Service reported:
The court held that even though some landlords are facing financial hardships, their interests must “yield precedence to the vital interests of the public as a whole,” according to papers filed…in Los Angeles federal court.
Listening to public health and housing experts, Pregerson found that the “economic damage the pandemic has wrought, if left unmediated by measures such as the City Moratorium, would likely trigger a tidal wave of evictions that would not only inflict misery upon many thousands of displaced residents, but also exacerbate a public health emergency that has already radically altered the daily life of every city resident, and even now threatens to overwhelm community resources.”
In reality, some people are still being kicked out of their rental units despite the moratoriums. Loopholes exist, and many tenants are unaware of their rights or are unfamiliar with the conditions that must be met for protection. For example, the CDC order only halts removals due to nonpayment of rent, still allowing evictions for reasons like excessive noise or other lease violations.
Property owners have received some financial relief from government rental assistance programs, and elsewhere, non-profits have stepped in to assist, helping tenants find aid so they can pay their landlords.
However, some progressive organizations see an easy opportunity to promote various social agendas. The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment has reportedly been organizing tenants throughout the Golden State to participate in rent strikes. The left-leaning group describes itself as “a multi-racial, democratic, non-profit community organization that builds power to fight and stand for economic, racial, and social justice.”
Dec. 1 marks the 9th time rent is due during the COVID pandemic. Join @HealthyLA_Coa on Thursday 12/3 with special guests @mikebonin @nithyavraman for a conversation on how we can protect thousands of tenants from eviction & homelessness. #NoEvictions https://t.co/QOmUu3NV6y pic.twitter.com/HseYqr4LTu
— 🐝 ACCE 🐝 (@CalOrganize) November 26, 2020
United Teachers Los Angeles, which represents more than 33,000 educators, nurses, and counselors who work in the nation’s second-largest public school district, has also publicly supported the rent strike movement.
We have been told to stay home, but what’s being done to make sure we have a home to stay in? Let's send a message to our elected officials: Do the right thing! #CancelRent #CancelMortgages! @gavinnewsom @CAgovernor
Join the #RentStrike movement here https://t.co/Ar9xzA5rkC
— United Teachers Los Angeles (@UTLAnow) April 30, 2020
CalMatters provides more details:
Their goal is not forestalling rent to be repaid later, but rather rent forgiveness entirely for renters who have lost their income due to the coronavirus recession. Hence a popular slogan: “No Income, No Rent.”
They also call for more moderate solutions for people who still have some income, including an agreement from the landlord to not raise rent.
The rent strike movement, in their view, isn’t just withholding money; it’s using the sole leverage available to tenants to force political changes, whether that’s a potential federal bailout of landlords and tenants, or more bills like the pre-pandemic AB 1482, which capped rent increases. The first changes would likely happen on a local level, like the existing eviction freezes in Alameda and San Francisco counties.
“Landlords whose residents withhold rent to advance a political agenda have no choice but commence an eviction action and work to collect the rent that is owed,” the California Apartment Association said in a statement to CalMatters. “This is an unpleasant step and not a decision an owner makes lightly.”
According to the Associated Press, tenant advocates want Joe Biden to sign a new eviction moratorium on his first day in office, then work with Congress to pass a relief package that would provide at least $100 billion to benefit renters, property owners, and resources for displaced people.
“By the time President-elect Biden takes office on Jan. 20, we may be in the midst of a historic eviction crisis in our country if no action is taken between now and then,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, told the outlet.